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Submitted to the Board of University Studies of The Johns 

Hopkins University in Conformity with the Requirements 

for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 




V \ A 







CHAPTER I. Number and Distribution of the Free 

Negroes 9 

CHAPTER II. The Origin of the Free Negro Class ... 16 

CHAPTER III. Manumission 42 

CHAPTER IV. The Legal Status of the Free Negro ... 88 

CHAPTER V. The Social Status of the Free Negro . . 123 



The history of the free negro in the slave States forms 
one of the most interesting chapters in the history of slavery 
in this country. A number of valuable monographs dealing 
with the history of the negro or with the institution of 
slavery in the various States have been published during 
recent years, but no one of them, so far as the author is 
aware, has been devoted exclusively to the status or history 
of the antebellum free negro in a particular Commonwealth 
of the Union. Such studies are needed, and it is hoped that 
the present monograph will, as far as Virginia is concerned, 
supply this need. Moreover, as a study of the free negro in 
the State in which the African first made his appearance in 
America, it should supply some of the facts upon which the 
history of the negro race in the United States must be based. 
Upon the constitutional side it is hoped that the study will 
be an aid to a correct conception of the purposes sought to 
be realized by the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment. 

The author takes this opportunity to acknowledge his 
indebtedness to Professor W. W. Willoughby for the 
scholarly guidance and stimulating criticism which were at 
his service in all stages of the work. It is a pleasure also 
to acknowledge his obligation to Professor J. C. Ballagh, at 
whose suggestion the study was undertaken. In the im 
portant work of discovery and valuation of the sources 
Professor Ballagh s generous direction was of particular 
value. The author is also indebted to Professors J. M. Vin 
cent and G. E. Barnett for helpful suggestions. 

Acknowledgment of special obligation is likewise due to 
Professor Charles Henry Ambler, of Randolph-Macon Col 
lege, who placed in the author s hands notes of great value 
which he had made upon the subject of this monograph. 
For courtesies extended by officials in charge of county and 



state archives, sincere thanks are here given. From the 
discussion of various phases of the subject with Dr. H. J. 
Eckenrode, archivist, and Mr. Earl G. Swem, assistant 
librarian, of the Virginia State Library, suggestions of great 
value were received. Mr. William G. Stanard, librarian of 
the Virginia Historical Society, courteously placed at the 
author s disposal valuable manuscripts. 

J. H. R. 




At the beginning of the Civil War there were in Virginia 
nearly sixty thousand free negroes. 1 This number was far 
in excess of the number of free colored persons in any other 
of the great slave States, being about double the number in 
North Carolina, the State which, south of Virginia, had the 
largest free colored population. It was in excess of the 
free negro population in any State, slave or free, with the 
exception of Maryland. In 1860 the entire number of 
negroes in New York and New England combined was but 
little greater than the number of free negroes in Virginia. 
According to every Federal enumeration from 1790, the 
aggregate negro population of the State of Pennsylvania 
was smaller than the free colored population of Virginia, 
and from 1830 to 1860 the same may be said of New York. 
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the sum of the 
free negro populations in New York, New Jersey, and Penn 
sylvania was only about a thousand more than the number 
of free negroes in Virginia. 2 Of the free negro population 
of the United States, Virginia had about one eighth. 3 

1 Except where specific reference is made in footnotes to the 
sources, the statistical facts in this chapter are based on the United 
States decennial censuses, 1790-1860. 

3 St. G. Tucker, A Dissertation on Slavery, p. 70 n. 

* It must be kept in mind that free mulattoes and all other free 
persons having negro blood are included in the use of the word 
" free negroes." The term includes the persons enumerated in the 
census reports under the caption, " all other [than white] free per 
sons except Indians not taxed." In 1771 the general court ruled 
that negro or mulatto servants and apprentices were to be considered 
free negroes. It is in this broadened sense that the word is used in 
this work when used without qualifying words (Howell v. Nether- 
land, Jefferson s Reports, 90). 



The condition which made the free negro question in Vir 
ginia unique and peculiarly interesting was that in that State 
only was there so large a free colored population living in 
a society so vitally connected with and dependent upon 
slavery. It requires but little imagination to see why a free 
negro population, numbering from twenty to sixty thousand 
between 1800 and 1860 and living among a slave population 
almost as numerous as the dominant white element, created 
social problems more perplexing than those of New Eng 
land, where the negroes, few in number, were almost all 
free, and race problems different from those of other great 
slave States where the free negroes were too few to con 
stitute a conspicuous factor in the social order. With 
society in a large area of Virginia composed of about an 
equal number of masters and slaves, an additional element 
of free negroes in the proportion of one to about eight slaves 
acted in no sense as an aid to facilitating the association of 
the two races. 

Prior to a law of 1782 which removed the restrictions 
upon the right to manumit slaves by will, the number of 
free negroes relative to the number of slaves or white per 
sons was very much smaller than in any decade after the 
passage of that act. From 1619 to the end of the century, 
when custom and the law were fixing the status of the Vir 
ginia negro, no satisfactory statistical estimate can be made 
of the number of free negroes in the colony. In 1670 Gov 
ernor Berkeley estimated the total number of " black slaves " 
in the colony at two thousand. 4 Although he made no ref 
erence to any free negroes, there is ample evidence to show 
that there were some in the colony at this time. In 1691 
and 1723 laws were enacted which limited the increase of 
the free negro class to natural means and to manumissions 
by special legislative acts. 5 These limitations upon manu 
mission remained in force till 1782, when, according to the 
reliable statement of a contemporary, the free negro class 
numbered about twenty-eight hundred. Supposing the 

4 W. W. Hening, Statutes at Large of Virginia, vol. ii, p. 515. 
"Ibid., vol. iii, pp. 87, 88; vol. iv, p. 132. 


ninety-one years between 1691 and 1782 to be sufficient time 
for the numbers of the free negroes to have doubled three 
times by natural increase, we may judge, by counting back 
ward on the basis of Tucker s estimate in 1782, that in 1691 
the number of free negroes in the colony was about three 
hundred and fifty. 6 

The frequency with which this class of persons is men 
tioned in church and court records between 1690 and 1782 
gives a further appearance of reliability to the above esti 
mate. In 1724 the reports of certain Virginia clergymen 
to the English bishop mention free negroes among the par 
ishioners, while certain others show that there were none. 
The report for St. Anne s parish asserted that in the parish 
there "are many negro slaves," and that "there maybe 6 free 
negroes." 7 The rector of Lawn s Creek parish reported that 
" there are some Indians, bond and free, and some negroes, 
bond and free." 8 The answer for Newport parish of Isle 
of Wight County is, "Both bond and free," 9 and for 
Hungar s parish on the Eastern Shore, " There are Infidels, 
bond and free." 10 The old parish registers, some of which 

6 St. G. Tucker, A Dissertation on Slavery in Virginia, published 
as Appendix to 1803 edition of Tucker s Blackstone, vol. i, note H, 
p. 66. The edition of the Dissertation on Slavery published in 1796 
has 1800 (p. 70) where the later edition has 2800 as representing 
the author s estimate of the number of free colored persons in Vir 
ginia. An indication that the figures of the later edition are the 
author s true estimate is contained in a statement made by a member 
of the House of Delegates in discussing manumission in which he 
cited Tucker as authority for the statement that in 1782 there were 
3000 free negroes in Virginia. Evidently the speaker adopted 3000 
as a round number for 2800 as given in the edition of Tucker, then 
only two years old. 

7 W. S. Perry, ed., Papers relating to the History of the Church 
in Virginia, 1650-1776, p. 315. 

8 Ibid., p. 289. 

9 Ibid., p. 274. 

10 Ibid., p. 273. The word " infidels " in these reports is used some 
what in the sense of "heathen," so that when the answer is made 
that there are "no infidels that are free," as was made for St. 
Peter s parish (p. 269), it must be understood to mean that there 
were no free negroes in the congregation of the minister making the 
report. One negative answer made to the question as to the num 
ber of bond or free infidels declared, " There are none of the latter, 
especially of those who profess the Church of England worship" 
(p. 271). Negroes, whether baptized or not, were uniformly re 
ported as infidels. 


date back to 1662, bear witness to the existence of a free 
negro element in the congregations, although it is difficult 
to ascertain from this source the numerical strength of the 
free negro population. 11 The register of the old Bruton 
parish shows that thirty-seven out of eleven hundred and 
twenty-two colored persons baptized between 1746 and 1797 
were free; 12 but the ratio of 37 to 1122, or I to 30, is no 
doubt much too large to show the relative number of free 
negroes to the slaves in any large section of the State. 
From about 1762 to 1782 some seventy free colored persons 
are mentioned in the records of baptisms, a number larger 
than could have been found in most areas of the same size 
included in a single parish. 13 

After 1782 the relative numbers of the three classes of 
Virginia population are pretty well known. A state census 
made in I782, 14 although not classifying free negroes sepa 
rately, bears out the estimate made by Professor Tucker that 
twenty-eight hundred 15 would represent fairly accurately 
the number of free negroes in Virginia at that date. The 
unparalleled increase of this class, which followed the re 
moval in 1782 of the restrictions on manumission, and also 
the relative numbers of free colored persons, slaves, and 
whites in Virginia from 1790 to 1860 will be seen from 

"By the courtesy of the librarian of the Episcopal Theological 
Seminary at Alexandria, Virginia, the writer was permitted to ex 
amine the manuscript parish records, which contain valuable in 
formation not only as to the number of free negroes, but also as to 
their social position. 

13 Manuscript copy, Williamsburg, Virginia, pp. 24-57. See also 
W. A. R. Goodwin, Historical Sketch of Bruton Church, p. 153. 

13 The record for a single year reads, with reference to free 
negroes, as follows: "John, son of Thos. & Sally Pow, a free mu 
latto was baptized April ye 4. 1762." " Elizabeth, Daughter of 
Eliza Wallace (a free negro) baptiz d June ye 6, 1762." "Joseph, 
Son of Anne Freeman, a free Mulatto, bapt z d July ye 4, 1762." 

In further illustration of the evidence contained in parish records 
of the existence of free negroes in the colony is the following 
entry: "Diego, free negro died Sept. 3, 1741 " (MS. Register 
of Christ s Church, Middlesex County, p. 310). 

14 " State Enumeration of Va., 1782-1785 Heads of Families," pub 
lished with the First Census of the United States, 1790. 

15 St. G. Tucker, A Dissertation on Slavery, ed. 1803, p. 66. 


the following table prepared from the Federal decennial 
censuses : 























1, 596, 206 

From these figures one fails to get a correct conception 
of the significance of the presence of the free colored popu 
lation in Virginia unless the question of distribution is also 
taken into consideration. Had the free blacks been equally 
distributed throughout the white population of the State, 
the effect would have been different. In the mountainous 
half of the State, which after 1830 contained half of the 
white population, free negroes were so scarce as to be an 
almost negligible social factor. The 58,042 free negroes, 
together with the slave population, were confined largely 
to the eastern half of the State, where in 1860 the white 
population numbered about 600,000. 

The State of Virginia was divided north and south on 
the basis of the elevation of land into four sections : Tide 
water, Piedmont, the Valley, and Trans-Alleghany. Of the 
12,866 free negroes in Virginia in 1790 only 75 resided in 
Trans-Alleghany, or what is now West Virginia with sev 
eral counties of the southwestern part of Virginia. In the 
Valley district there were 815; in the Piedmont region, 
3640, leaving 8330, or about two thirds of the entire number, 
in Tidewater. In that section the first census recorded I 
free negro to 18 slaves and to 18 white persons. In Trans- 
Alleghany the figures showed I free negro to 30 slaves to 
517 white persons. 

From the census of 1860 it appeared that the free negroes 
of Tidewater were between one sixth and one seventh of 
the colored and about one fourteenth of the entire popula 
tion of that section. Tidewater contained 32,841 free ne- 


groes, over one half of the entire free colored population, 
while the region beyond the Alleghanies now had 2513, 
which was about one eleventh of the blacks of that section 
and i to every 160 persons living there. It appears that 
Tidewater always had from one half to two thirds of the 
entire free negro class, although after 1830 that section 
contained less than one fourth of the white people of the 
State. In 1860 Trans-Alleghany had more than one third 
of the white population of Virginia and about one twenty- 
fifth of the free negroes. The two sections west of the 
Blue Ridge, sometimes called the western half of the State, 
had in 1860 over one half of the white and but one seventh 
of the entire free colored class. A few of the lower coun 
ties in the Valley contained a large part of the 8354 free 
colored persons who lived in the western half. Thus it is 
apparent that an important aspect of the free negro problem 
in Virginia was the fact that the free negro population was 
largely concentrated in the eastern half of the State and 
came in contact with only about one half of the white 

With respect to the relative numbers of free negroes in 
smaller localities some interesting observations may be made. 
As between rural and urban communities the latter had the 
larger share of free negroes. In 1790, when the average 
ratio of free negroes to slaves and to whites in the Tide 
water section was I to 18, in Petersburg the free negroes 
constituted one fourth of the colored population of the town, 
and were to the whites as I to 4^. In this town of 3000 
people there were 310 free negroes. In Richmond, out of 
a population of 3700 there were 265 free negroes. In 
Portsmouth, where 1702 persons lived, there were 47 free 

The increase of free negroes in the town populations is 
best seen by considering the figures of some of the later cen 
suses. Petersburg in 1830 had 2032 free negroes, 2850 
slaves, and 3440 white persons. In 1860 this town was the 
home of 3164 free negroes, 5680 slaves, and a number of 


white persons about equal to the total black population. 
In 1860 Winchester, a town of 3000 white inhabitants, had 
675 free negroes, only nineteen less than half of the blacks 
of the town. In 1850, 10,450 free negroes out of a total of 
54,333, that is, nearly one fifth, lived in towns, while only 
about one tenth of the white population lived in cities and 
towns. In 1860 between a fourth and a third of the whole 
free colored population lived in towns and cities. 16 

In some counties a large proportion of the black inhabi 
tants were free. In Accomac County 3392 of the 8000 
black inhabitants were free. In James City County 926 
out of 2764 blacks were free. In Nansemond County there 
were 2470 free negroes and 581 slaves. Other counties in 
Tidewater in which from one sixth to one half of the col 
ored population was free were Charles City, Fairfax, Hen- 
rico, Isle of Wight, James City, Norfolk, Northampton, 
Prince William, Richmond, Southampton, Warwick, and 
Westmoreland. The counties in Piedmont which had the 
largest free colored population relative to the slave class 
were Loudoun and Goochland. In the former, one sixth of 
the negroes were free, in the latter, one ninth. 

Occasion may arise for calling attention to other facts 
relative to the numbers and the distribution of the free ne 
groes in Virginia, but the facts given above will be sufficient 
for a general conception of the numerical importance of 
that class at different times and in different places. 

"Census of 1860, Population, p. 516. 


The popular misconception of the beginnings of the free 
negro population in Virginia which this chapter should cor 
rect may be stated as follows : The first negroes brought to 
Virginia in 1619 were from the very outset regarded and 
held as slaves for life. They and all Africans who came 
after them experienced immediately upon entering Virginia 
a perpetual loss of liberty. Unlike the white servant, whose 
freedom was only temporarily withheld, the freedom of the 
negro could only be restored by an act of emancipation. 
This being so, the free negro class was nothing but a diver 
gence from, or a by-product of, slavery, dependent in its 
origin and existence upon the disintegration of slavery. 
This erroneous view was expressed by a slavery apologist of 
the decade immediately preceding the Civil War as follows : 
" Every negro in this country, or his ancestors, came in as a 
slave. Every negro, legally free, has reached that condition 
by his ancestors or himself having been emancipated by a 
former master." 1 

This popular error is maintained and supported by a large 
number of writers who have discussed the introduction of 
negroes into America. Besides Virginia historians such as 
Burk, Campbell, and Cook, who through thoughtless infer 
ence have written the word " slave " where they should, in 
view of all the evidence before them, have written "ne 
gro," there are two classes of writers who have given cre 
dence to the theory as a means of supporting some cause 
of which they were the champions. The first authorities 
to make use of this historical error were the antebellum 

1 " Calx," Two Great Evils of Virginia. Bound in " Political 
Pamphlets/ vol. xii, p. 5, in Virginia State Library. 



proslavery advocates. Judge Tucker of the Virginia su 
preme court, when delivering an opinion in 1806 in support 
of the principle of presuming slavery from color, made the 
following assertion : " From the first settlement of the colony 
of Virginia to the year 1778, all negroes, Moors, and mu- 
lattoes . . . brought into this country by sea, or land, were 
slaves." 2 The school of proslavery writers in Virginia be 
tween 1832 and 1860 made this assumption the basis of 
an argument for the reduction of all free negroes to slavery : 
" Every negro in this country or his ancestors came in as a 
slave." Hence they argued that " the free condition of all 
negroes in this country is novel or superinduced, artificial 
and abnormal. The great political problem which is re 
quired to be solved, is the recovery of the free negroes from 
their false position in this slave-holding community." 3 

The other writers whose conclusions have been influenced 
by their wishes in regard to the early history of the negro in 
America are historians of sectional bias who desire to assure 
themselves and their readers that American slavery had its 
origin in Virginia and not at the North. Thus, Henry Wil 
son, in his Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, 4 
assures us that " in the month of August, 1620, a Dutch ship 
entered James River with twenty African slaves. They 
were purchased by the colonists, and they and their offspring 
were held in perpetual servitude." He therefore concludes 
that " four months before the feet of the Pilgrims had 
touched the New World, began that system which over 
spread the land." 

Without attempting to say whether slavery had an earlier 
beginning in Virginia than in the other colonies, and with 
out entering into the merits of the contention of the pro- 
slavery advocates that the free negroes should have been 
universally reduced to slavery, it can be asserted that 
any contention based solely upon the theory that the first 
Afro- Virginians and their offspring were slaves from the 

1 Hudgins v. Wrights, i Hening and Munford, 137. 
"Calx," p. 5. 
Third edition, vol. i, p. 2. 



time of their arrival in the colony is not well founded. 5 
Regardless of the bearing upon past or present controversies 
of the conclusions reached, an examination of the records 
will be made with the sole object of finding out what was 
the early status of the negro in Virginia. 

If the simple fact of the introduction of negroes into the 
colony of Virginia is not to be taken as conclusive evidence 
of the beginning of slavery, upon what facts should its origin 
or earliest existence be posited? Throughout the seven 
teenth century there were in the colony persons called ser 
vants whose relations to their masters during the time of 
their service resembled the relations of slavery. Such tem 
porary servitude must be distinguished from slavery. The 
difference between a servant and a slave is elementary and 
fundamental. The loss of liberty to the servant \vas tem 
porary; the bondage of the slave was perpetual. It is the 
distinction made by Beverly in 1705 when he wrote, " They 
are call d Slaves in respect of the time of their Servitude, 
because it is for Life." 6 Wherever, according to the cus 
toms and laws of a colony, negroes were regarded and held 
as servants without a future right to freedom, there we 
should find the beginning of slavery in that colony. Dr. J. 
C. Ballagh, in his History of Slavery in Virginia, very prop 
erly treats slavery as a legal status ; but by drawing a sharp 
line between negro servitude and slavery at the date of stat 
utory recognition of slavery he has overemphasized the im 
portance of legislation in determining the origin of the insti 
tution. 7 Slavery in Virginia was instituted and developed 
in customary law, and was legally sanctioned at first by 

8 J. C. Ballagh, in A History of Slavery in Virginia, was the first 
to point out the error in the assumption that slavery was introduced 
into Virginia. His thesis in the chapter entitled " Development of 
Slavery " is that " servitude . . . was the historic base upon which 
slavery, by the extension and addition of incidents, was constructed." 
Although we are not primarily concerned in this study with the 
origin of slavery in Virginia, the facts here presented in relation 
to the origin of the free negro seem to bear out Dr. Ballagh s thesis 
as above stated. 

6 The History and Present State of Virginia, bk. iv, p. 35. Cf. 
Ballagh, Slavery in Virginia, p. 28. 

7 Pp. 34, 43- 


court decisions. Hence, not in statute law, but in court 
records and documents which contain evidence of the con 
dition of individual negroes prior to the date of statutory 
recognition of slavery are to be found, if found at all, the 
facts relative to the beginning of slavery. 

The first act of the Virginia slave code, that is to say, the 
first act dealing directly with the status of negroes, was 
passed in 1662. 8 The wording of the act is abundant proof 
that those who framed it viewed slavery as a practice well 
established and well understood, the word " slave " being 
used without an attempt to define its significance. The idea 
that the act was to establish slavery or to provide the insti 
tution with a legal basis seems to have been entirely absent ; 
the sole object was to fix a rule by which the status of mu 
latto children could be determined. Prior to this act the 
word " slave " had occurred in the statutes at three different 
times. In 1655 it was enacted that " if the Indians shall 
bring in any children as gages of their good and quiet inten 
tions to vs and amity with vs . . . the countrey by vs their 
representatives do engage that wee will not vse them as 
slaves." 9 This pledge to the native Indians would seem to 
justify the inference that some persons, if not some Indians, 
in the colony had been reduced to slavery. Again, in 1659 
in an act concerning commercial relations with the Dutch it 
was declared "that if the said Dutch or other foreigners 
shall import any negro-slaves, They . . . shall for the to 
bacco really produced by the sale of the said negro pay only 
the impost of two shilling per hogshead, the like being paid 
by our owne nation." 10 While here the subject of legisla 
tion is not even related to status and the reference to slaves 
is in a conditional clause in the act, it is hardly to be sup 
posed that the persons who drew the act would have used 

" Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children got by an 
Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or free, Be it 
therefore enacted . . . that all children borne in this country shall 
be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother " 
(Hening, vol. ii, p. 170). 

9 Hening, vol. i, p. 396. 

10 Ibid., vol. i, p. 540. 


the word " slave " where " servant " or " negro " was meant. 
The act came very close to a recognition of the legal possi 
bility of slavery in the colony. 11 

Two years later the wording of an act prescribing certain 
punishments for runaway English servants shows beyond a 
doubt that some negroes in the colony were slaves. The 
act is entitled " English running away with negroes," 12 and 
reads as follows : " In case any English servant shall run 
away in company with any negroes who are incapable of 
makeing satisfaction by addition of time, bee it enacted 
that the English so running away in company with them 
shall serve for the time of the said negroes absence as they 
are to do for their own by a former act." 13 The clause which 
here refers incidentally to negroes certainly shows that some 
of them were servants for life, slaves, incapable of compen 
sating for lost time by any addition to their terms ; but 
there is nothing in the act which asserts that all negroes 
were or should henceforth be slaves. 

This is the act which has been interpreted by Dr. Ballagh 
in his History of Slavery in Virginia as not only a recogni 
tion of slavery, but also as a statutory reduction to slavery 
of all free or servant negroes. 1 * As thus interpreted, the 
law is made to supply a legal basis hitherto lacking upon 

u There is some indication in the records of the Dutch settlement 
in New York that the supposition in the act was at times a reality. 
Four years before this act the Council of the Colony of New 
York granted to Edmund Scharbuch "permission to sail in his 
vessel with some purchased negroes from here to Virginia" (Docu 
ments Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New York, 
vol. xii, pp. 93, 94). 

12 Hening, vol. ii, p. 26. Italics my own. 

13 In the repetition of this act the following year the words " if 
they [the negroes] had not been slaves" are added, showing that 
a negro who was not a slave was required to make up his own time 
lost by running away (Hening, vol. ii, p. 117). 

14 At page 71 are used the words, "negro servants reduced to 
slavery in 1661." The words from which this inference is drawn 
are quoted thus : " Negroes are incapable of making satisfaction by 
addition of time" (p. 34). These words as they stand are indeed 
of universal application, but it will be noticed that two words have 
been omitted from the text of the act which when supplied give to 
the clause a restricted meaning and application. /The clause should 
read : " Any negroes who are incapable of makeing satisfaction by 
addition of time." 


which courts might rule against the liberation of negroes 
suing for freedom. But, manifestly, the act was not in 
tended for such a purpose, and there is abundant evidence 
that it was not used to alter the status of free or servant 
negroes then in the colony. The truth is that no attempt 
was ever made to supply legal grounds for holding negroes 
in a status of slavery. Custom supplied all the authority 
that appeared to be necessary, and legislation at first merely V 
performed the part of resolving some uncertainties concern 
ing a well-established institution. "When the progress of 
the times," wrote Savigny, " calls for new institutions . . . 
there is necessarily a time of transition in which the law is 
uncertain, and it is to put an end to this uncertainty that 
Statute Law is required." 15 

This truth is well illustrated in the growth of slavery in 
Virginia. The time of transition from slavery sanctioned 
by customary law to slavery defined by statute law was the 
decade between 1660 and 1670. A few quotations from 
the preambles of the acts of this period will reveal the object 
of the first legislation concerning the Africans in Virginia. 
In 1662 we read that " whereas some doubts have arisen 
whether children got by an Englishman upon a negro woman 
should be slave or free, be it therefore enacted," 16 and so 
forth. " Some doubts have [ing] arisen whether negroes 
that are slaves by birth should by vertue of baptism be made 
free," the answer was made in 1667 by the enactment of a 
statute. 17 An act of 1668 begins with the words, "/Whereas , 
doubts have arisen whether negro women set free should 
be accompted tithable," 18 and another two years later was 
explained by a preamble which asserted that "it has been 
questioned whither Indians or negroes manumitted or other 
wise free could be capable of purchasing Christian ser 
vants." 19 Doubts arose as to whether Indians captured in 

15 Savigny, System, Sec. 13, quoted in J. M. Lightfoot s Nature of 
Positive Law, pp. 283, 284. 
^ 18 Hening, vol. ii, p. i/o. 

" Ibid., vol. ii, p. 260. 

18 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 267. 

19 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 280. 


war should be slaves, and in 1670 was passed an act enti 
tled " An act declaring who shall be slaves." 20 

Even after this decade of legislation the question as to 
who should or should not be slaves was not fully answered. 
The act of 1670 merely applied to servants brought in by 
ship after 1670 the test of Christianity to determine whether 
they should be servants for a limited time or slaves for life. 
The status of Africans who came or were brought to Vir 
ginia before 1670 was not determined by statute law either 
before or after that date. Hence, if by statute law slavery 
was merely regulated and not established or instituted, the 
only use that can be made of the statutes in determining the 
origin of the institution is to fix an upper limit to the period 
in which the beginning was made. Knowing that slavery 
had its beginning some time before 1661, the date of the first 
act recognizing it, a study of the period from 1619 to 1661 
should throw much light on the question of the earliest 
beginnings of the free negro class. 

From the quaint narrative of Master John Rolfe, who 
possibly wrote as an eyewitness of the introduction of ne 
groes into Virginia, it is learned that " About the last of 
August [1619] came in a Dutch man of Warre that sold 
us twenty negars." 21 In the very year of the arrival of this 
group of African immigrants a system of labor known as 
indented servitude received recognition in the laws of the 
colony. 22 It was not an uncommon practice in this early 
period for ship masters to sell white servants to the plant 
ers; 23 hence, an inference that these twenty negroes were 
slaves, drawn from the fact that they were sold to the colony 
or to the planters, would not be justified. Prior to 1619 
every inhabitant of the colony was practically "a servant 
manipulated in the interest of the company, held in servi- 

20 Herring, vol. ii, p. 283. 

21 Works of Captain John Smith, ed. by Arber, p. 541. 

22 The first assembly of the colony provided that all contracts of 
servants should be recorded and enforced, and thus gave legislative 
recognition to servitude (Colonial Records of Virginia, 1619-1680, 
State Senate Document, Extra, 1874, pp. 21, 28; J. C. Ballagh, White 
Servitude in the Colony of Virginia, p. 27 n.). 

23 Ballagh, White Servitude, p. 45- 


tude beyond a stipulated term/ 24 The word " freeman " 
was just beginning to be used to distinguish persons set free 
from service to the London Company from persons still in 
a condition of servitude either to the company or to indi 
vidual freemen. 25 Beyond all question the first twenty ne 
groes brought in were not introduced as freemen. The 
only question is whether, upon entering the colony, they be 
came servants or slaves. The possibility of their becoming 
slaves must be recognized because it is conceivable that a 
status different from that of any person in Virginia at that 
time was given to persons so different from white settlers 
as were the Africans. 

Since it is the fact that the white population in the colony 
in 1619 had not been familiar in England with a system 
of slavery or with a model slave code, and since they had 
developed in Virginia a system of servitude and were forti 
fying it by law, it is plausible that the Africans became ser 
vants in a condition similar to the status of white servants, 
who, after a term of service varying from two to eight 
years, 26 were entitled to freedom. According to the " Lists 
of living and dead in Virginia" 27 in 1623 and the "Muster 
Rolls of the Settlements in Virginia/ 28 a census made in 
1624-1625, there were in the colony twenty-three Africans. 
They are all listed as " servants," thus receiving the same 
class name as many white persons enumerated in the lists. 29 
Some had names, as, for instance, "Angelo, a negro wo 
man," and " John Pedro, a neger aged 30." Others appar 
ently had no names, and were designated simply by the word 
" negro " under the caption " servants." In the opinion of 

"Ballagh, White Servitude, p. 14. 

25 Hening, vol. i, pp. 126, 128. 

26 Ballagh, White Servitude, p. 49. Two hundred and fifty serv 
ants were brought into Virginia in 1619 (ibid., pp. 18, 30). 

27 Colonial Records of Virginia, p. 37 et seq. 

28 J. C. Hotten, Lists of Emigrants to America, passim. 

28 They were distributed as follows : Abraham Piersey, 7 ; George 
Yeardley, Kt, 8; Capt William Piercey, i; Richard Kingsmall, i; 
Edward Bennett, 2; Capt. William Tucker, 3; Capt. Francis West, 
i. All these persons held other servants beside the negroes, and 
some of these masters, being officers in the colony, may have had 
merely the right of an officer over company servants (Hotten, pp. 


Thomas Jefferson, "the right to these negroes was com 
mon, or, perhaps, they lived on a footing with the whites, 
who, as well as themselves, were under the absolute direc 
tion of the president." 30 

Were any or all of these negroes permitted to realize the 
freedom to which servants were entitled under the laws and 
customs of servitude? In the records of the county courts 
dating from 1632 to 1661 negroes are designated as "ser 
vants," " negro servants," or simply as " negroes," but never 
in the records which we have examined were they termed 
" slaves." 31 By an order of the general court a negro 
brought from the West Indies to Virginia in 1625 was de 
clared to "belong to Sir Francis Wyatt (then governor) 
as his servant." 32 There is nothing in the record which in 
dicates that " servant " meant the same as " slave." Among 
the twenty-three African " servants " enumerated in 1624 
was a negro man named Anthony 33 and a negro woman 
named Mary, 34 serving under different masters. In the 
county court records of Northampton, of date February 28, 
1652, is the following order: 

Upon ye humble petition] of Anth. Johnson Negro; & Mary his 
wife; & their Information to ye Court that they have been Inhab 
itants in Virginia above thirty years consideration being taken of 
their hard labor & honoured service performed by the petitioners 
in this County, for ye obtayneing of their Livelyhood And ye great 
Llosse they have sustained by an unfortunate fire wth their present 
charge to provide for, Be it therefore fitt and ordered that from the 
day of the date hearof (during their natural lives) the sd Mary 
Johnson & two daughters of Anthony Johnson Negro be disingaged 
and freed from payment of Taxes and leavyes in Northampton 
County for public use. 35 

30 Jefferson s Reports, iign. 

81 Examples or illustrations may be seen in MS. Court Records of 
Accomac County, 1632-1640, pp. 55, 152 et seq. ; Lower Norfolk 
County, 1637-1646, 1646-1651. 

32 The case is one which Jefferson noted from the records of the 
general court (Jefferson s Reports, ugn.)- 

33 Hotten, p. 244. In the second edition the entry referring to 
Anthony is as follows : " Anthony, negro, Isabell, a negro, and Wil 
liam her child, baptised." In an earlier edition (1874) the entry 
appeared as follows : " Antony Negro : Isabell Negro ; and Wil 
liam theire Child Baptised." 

34 " Mary, a negro Woman [came in] in the Margarett and John, 
1622" (Hotten, p. 241). 
35 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, p. 161. 


Subtracting thirty or more years from 1652, the date of 
this court order, we find that Anthony Johnson and possibly 
the woman who became his wife were inhabitants of Vir 
ginia before 1622. 36 If additional evidence is required to 
establish the fact that Anthony Johnson and his family were 
free in 1652, it is contained in a land patent of 1651 assign 
ing to him in fee simple two hundred and fifty acres of 
land, 37 or in the records of a suit which he maintained in 
the county court in i655. 38 

Just what part of the period of over thirty years of An 
thony Johnson s residence in the colony was a term of servi 
tude or how long before 1652 he had enjoyed his freedom 
is not clear. The term of service for white servants was 
not uniform, being dependent upon the conditions of the 
contract. Before 1643, servants without contracts gener 
ally became freemen after terms of service varying from 
two to eight years. After 1643 tne terms of service for 
servants "brought into the colony without indentures or 
covenants to testify their agreements " were fixed by law 
at four to seven years, the period varying somewhat with 
the youthfulness of the servant. 39 The variations in the 
terms of service for negro servants appear to have been 
greater than the variations for white servants. In 1651 
" head rights " were allowed upon the importation of a 
negro by the name of Richard Johnson. 40 Only three years 
later a patent calling for one hundred acres of land was 
issued to this negro for importing two other persons. 41 
Hence, it appears that Richard Johnson came in as a free 

36 It is evident from the census of 1624 that the negress Mary, 
there enumerated, was not then the wife of Anthony; but granting 
that Anthony and Mary Johnson were in Virginia thirty years be 
fore 1652, it is not an unreasonable inference that the only negro 
man named Anthony and the only negro woman named Mary in the 
colony thirty years before 1652 were the negroes afterward called 
Anthony and Mary Johnson. 

ST MS. Land Patents of Virginia, 1643-1651, p. 326. 

88 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, P- 226; 
1655-1658, p. 10 ; below, p. 32. 

39 Hening, vol. i, pp. 257, 441. 

40 MS. Land Patents of Virginia, 1643-1651, p. 326. 

41 Ibid., 1652-1655, p. 294. 


negro or remained in a condition of servitude for not more 
than three years. A negro who came to Virginia about 
1665 was bound to serve Mr. George Light for a period of 
only five years. 42 It appears from certain indentures to be 
found on record that the term of service to which a negro 
might be bound could be for almost any number of years. 
In the following agreement, for example, the term was for 
ten years : " Be it thought fitt & assented unto by Mr. Steph. 
Charlton in Court that Jno. G. Hamander Negro, his ser 
vant, shall from ye date hereof [1648] serve ye sd Mr. 
Charlton (his heyers or assns.) until ye last days of No 
vember wh shall be in ye year of our Lord . . . one thou 
sand six hundred Fifty & eight and then ye sd Negro is to 
bee a free man." 43 

As another example of the contracts of indented negro 
servants the following extract from the Northampton County 
court records of 1645 is quoted: 

This Indenture witnesseth yt I Capt. Francis Pott have taken to 
service two Daughters of my negro Emanuell Dregis to serve & bee 
to me my heyers Exors. Adms. or Assigns. The one whose name 
is Elizabeth is to serve thirteene years whch will be compleat & 
ended in ye first part of March in ye yeare of our Lord God one 
thousand six hundred Fifty & eight. . . . And ye other child whose 
name is Jane Dregis (being about one yeare old) is to serve ye 
said Capt. Pott as aforesaid untill she arrive to ye age of thirty 
years old wh will be compleate & ended . . . [May, 1674], And I ye 
said Francis Pott doe promise to give them sufficient meate, drinke, 
Apparel & Lodging and to use my best endeavor to bring them up 
in ye feare of God and in ye knowledge of our Saviour Christ Jesus. 
And I doe further testify yt the Eldest daughter was given to my 
negro by one who brought her upp by ye space of eight years and 
ye younger he bought and paid for to Capt. Robert Shephard (as 
maye bee made appear). In witness whereof have hereunto sett 
my hands & scale in ye 27th of May one thousand six hundred forty 
& five. 


Witness the names of Thorn. P. Powell & John Pott.* 4 

It appears from this record that one of the negro chil 
dren was bound to serve for a period of thirteen years and 
the other for a term of twenty-nine years. The latter 

42 General Court Records, Robinson Transcripts, p. 161. 

43 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1645-1651, P- 150. 

44 Ibid., p. 82. 


served, however, only seven years of her term ; for in 1652 
her father purchased her release from the contract, and 
upon payment was given the following receipt: "24, May 
1652. This day Capt. Pott acknowledged yt hee hath reed 
of Emanuell Driggs Negro satisfaction & full payment for 
& in consideration of the present freedome of Jane Driggs 
daughter of ye sd Emanuell Driggs, the sd girle beinge aged 
about eight years." 45 

It is quite clear that the children of Emanuel Dregis or 
Driggs became indented servants and not slaves for life, 
but a question arises as to their status before this contract 
was made. Emanuel Dregis may not have been regularly 
married to the mother of these two daughters of his, and 
the owner of their mother seems to have claimed some right 
to dispose of them by gift and sale to their father. But 
the status of Emanuel Dregis and his wife Frances is fairly 
well explained in other records. In 1649 Dregis and his 
wife Frances and one other negro called Bashasor were 
assigned by Roger Booker to Stephen Charlton. 46 Two 
years later the following record was made concerning the 
property rights of these negroes : 

Whereas Emanuel Driggs and Bashasar Farnando negroes now 
servants unto Capt. Franc Pott have certain cattle, Hoggs & poultry 
now in their possession ye wch they have honestly gotten and pur 
chased in their service formerly under ye sd Capt. Pott & since 
augmented and increased under the service of Capt. Steph. Charlton 
now we, sd Pott & Charlton, doe hereby declare yt ye said cattle, 
hoggs, & poultry (with their increase) are ye proper goods of the 
above sd Negroes; and yt they may freely dispose of them either 
in their life tyme or att their death. In witness our hands 3Oth 
December 1652. 


The fact that these negroes had an absolute right to this 
property, a right which was not destroyed by the death of 
the property owner, is convincing that their status was higher 
than the status of the slave, whose loss of liberty was abso 
lute. Bills of sale recording the transfer of property to 

45 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, p. 82. 

46 Ibid., p. 28. 

47 Ibid., p. 114. 


these negroes were recorded by the county court, which 
shows that the negroes were regarded as capable of making 
and enforcing a contract. 48 It may be of some significance 
in this connection to note that later in that century there 
was a Dregis or Driggus family of free negroes living in 
Northampton County. 49 

An instance very similar to the case of Emanuel Dregis 
is found in the records of the general court of Virginia for 
1640-1641. The example is of special importance because 
there is very little specific information of earlier date con 
cerning the condition of negroes. An order of the court 
runs as follows : " It appeareth to the court that John Gea- 
ween being a negro servant unto William Evans was per 
mitted by his said master to keep hogs and make the best 
benefit thereof to himself provided the said Evans might 
have half the increase which was accordingly returned unto 
him by the said negro and the other half reserved for his 
own benefit." 50 Geaween, like Dregis, accumulated prop 
erty, and purchased from Lieutenant Robert Sheppard his 
child s freedom ; by order of the court the child was de 
clared to " be free from the said Evans," its father s master, 
and "to be and remain at the disposing and education of the 
said Geaween and the child s god-father," Robert Sheppard. 

The status of negroes like John Geaween, Emanuel 
Dregis, and Farnando fits precisely the description of servi 
tude written in 1656 by John Hammond. :< There is no 
master almost," says Hammond, "but will allow his Ser 
vant a parcell of clear ground to plant some Tobacco in 
for himself . . . which in time of shipping he may lay out 
for commodities, and in Summer sell them again with ad 
vantage, and get a Sow-Pig or two, which anybody almost 

48 Bill of sale by Francis Pott to Emanuel Dregis of " a black 
cow and a red calf" (MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 
1645-1651, p. 83). In 1647 Tony Kongo, a negro, was compelled 
in court to make good a debt, due Lewis White, amounting to three 
hundred and eighty-two pounds of tobacco. By the order of the 
court, he was allowed thirty days to guarantee payment out of "ye 
next croppe " (ibid., p. 131). 

49 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1689-1698, p. 463. 

60 General Court Records, p. 30. Published in Virginia Magazine 
of History, vol. xi, p. 281. 


will give him and his Master suffer him to keep them with 
his own . . . and with one year s increase of them may 
purchase a Cow-Calf or two and by that time he is for 
himself." 51 

Upon the completion of a term of servitude negro ser 
vants were sometimes granted a written discharge, as was 
Francis Pryne in 1656. The court record of the discharge 
of this man reads as follows : 

I Mrs. Jane Elkonhead . . . have hereunto sett my hand yt ye 
aforesd Pryne [a negro] shall bee discharged from all hinder- 
ances of servitude (his child) or any [thing] yt doth belong to ye 
sd Pryne his estate. 


The priority of the origin of the free negro class over the 
origin of the slave class and the continuity of the free negro 
class will appear as plainly when historical evidence of the 
beginning of slavery is sought as when examples of negro 
servitude are looked for. When the court records are ex 
amined with a view to finding the earliest beginnings of 
slavery, it appears that between 1640 and 1660 slavery was 
fast becoming an established fact. In this twenty years the 
colored population was divided, part being servants and part 
being slaves, and some who were servants defended them 
selves with increasing difficulty from the encroachments of 

In 1640 the general court 53 rendered in a singular case a 
judgment which is very instructive as to the earliest devel 
opment of slavery. " Three servants " of Hugh Gwyn, to 
wit, a Dutchman called Victor, a Scotchman named James 
Gregory, and John Punch, a negro, having run away from 
their master, were overtaken in Maryland and brought back 
to Virginia to stand trial for their misbehavior. The ver 
dict of the court was " that the said three servants shall 

51 P. Force, Tracts and Other Papers, no. 14, p. 14. Cited as Force 

52 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1654-1655, p. 100. 

" The General Court so called because it trys the Causes of 
the whole Country, is held twice a Year by the Governors and 
Council as Judges at Jamestown; viz: in the Month of April and 
October" (Hartwell, Blair, and Chilton, The Present State of Vir 
ginia, and the College, p. 44). 


receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty 
stripes apiece." Thus far there was no discrimination in 
penalty, but the court went on to order that the Dutchman 
and the Scotchman should " first serve out their times with 
their master according to their Indentures and one whole 
year apiece after the time of their service is expired ... in 
recompence of his loss sustained by their absence," and that 
then they should serve the colony for three years. But 
"the third, being a negro . . . shall serve his said master 
or his assigns for the time of his natural life." 54 While 
there is no mention of an indenture or contract in the case 
of the negro, it must be remembered that not all white ser 
vants had formal contracts. If John Punch was not merely 
a servant with a future right to freedom, his punishment 
was much less severe than that of his white accomplices. 
If he was such a servant, his penalty was greater than the 
penalties inflicted upon the white men. The most reason 
able explanation seems to be that the Dutchman and the 
Scotchman, being white, were given only four additional 
years to their terms of indenture, while " the third, being 
a negro," was reduced from his former condition of servi 
tude for a limited time to a condition of slavery for life. 55 

54 General Court Records, pp. 9, 10. Printed in Virginia Magazine 
of History, vol. v, p. 236. 

55 A case which came up for trial before the general court at the 
July session of 1640, three months later than the case above cited, in 
dicates that some negroes were being held as slaves as early as 1640. 
The record reads : " Six servants and a negro of Mr. Reginald s has 
plotted to run away unto the Dutch plantation." In addition to 
the fact that the negro is not here called a servant, the nature of the 
penalties inflicted indicates that the negro was a slave. The " prime 
agent " in the plot was a white man named Miller. His punishment 
was to be thirty stripes, burning of the letter R on the cheek, the 
wearing of shackles on his leg for one year, and seven years service 
to the colony when his term to his master should expire. The 
punishments ordered for the other five white men were less severe, 
but none of them escaped with less than two years additional ser 
vice. When the court came finally to the negro, he was given a 
penalty exactly equal to that of the prime agent, except the addition 
to his time of service. These facts indicate that the negro was a 
slave " incapable of making satisfaction by addition of time," and 
that such discriminations as were made because of his race or color 
were made by inflicting upon him a severer corporal punishment than 
his white fellow-conspirators received (General Court Records, 
p. ii. Printed in Virginia Magazine of History, vol. v, p. 236). 


Some time before 1644 Thomas Bushrod, assignee of Col 
onel William Smith, sold a mulatto boy named Manuel " as 
a slave for-Ever, but in September, 1644, the said servant 
was by the Assembly adjudged no Slave and but to serve 
as other Christian servants do and was freed in September, 
i66"5." 56 By " Christian servants " here is meant covenant 
or indented servants. This case makes possible the state 
ment that although some negroes were being treated as 
slaves, others retained their right to freedom and were not 
reduced to a state of slavery, not even by the statutes of 
1661 and 1662 recognizing slavery. Another case in point 
is that of a negro set free in 1665 by order of the general 
court, " after serving seven years." 57 A similar ruling of 
this court in the same year was transcribed by Robinson 
simply as "a judgment of a negro for his freedom." 58 

Even these cases decided in court favorably to individual 
servants are no better evidence of the continuity of the free 
negro class than they are of the encroachments which slavery 
was making upon the freedom rights of negro servants. It 
was estimated in 1649 tnat there were in Virginia at that 
time three hundred Africans. 59 A majority of this number 
had been imported in the decade immediately preceding this 
date, and it appears certain that the greater part of the 
negroes brought in after 1640 were not permitted to realize 
freedom. Most of them had no indentures or contracts, 
and the difficulty with which such as had no contracts could 
have defended any rights that they possessed under the laws 
and customs may be inferred from the success with which 
some who had indentures were reduced to perpetual servi 

69 Journal of House of Burgesses, October, 1666, in Randolph MS. 
in Virginia Historical Society, and printed in Virginia Magazine of 
History, vol. xvii, p. 232. 

67 General Court Records. Printed in Virginia Magazine of His 
tory, vol. viii, p. 237. 

58 General Court Records. Printed in Virginia Magazine of His 
tory, vol. viii, p. 243. 

59 " There are in Virginia about fifteen thousand English, and of 
negroes brought thither, three hundred good servants " (A Perfect 
Description of Virginia, printed for Richard Wodenoth, 1649. Re 
printed in Virginia Historical Register, vol. ii, no. ii, p. 62). 


A very instructive and interesting case in point is that of 
John Casor, 60 a negro of Northampton County, who came 
to Virginia about 1640. Strange to relate, John Casor s 
master was the negro Anthony Johnson, who, as we have 
seen, came in before 1622, and who owned a large tract of 
land on the Eastern Shore. According to the records made 
of the case, John Casor set up the claim in 1653 "Yt hee 
came unto Virginia for seaven or eight years of Indenture, 
yt hee had demanded his freedom of Anth. Johnson his 
Mayster; & further sd yt hee had kept him his serv[an]t 
seaven years longer than hee should or ought." Casor ap 
pealed to Captain Samuel Goldsmith to see that he was 
accorded his rights. Goldsmith demanded of Johnson the 
servant negro s indenture, and was told by Johnson that the 
latter had never seen any indenture, and " yt hee had ye 
Negro for his life." Casor stood firmly by his assertion 
that when he came in he had an indenture, and Messrs. 
Robert and George Parker confirmed his declaration, say 
ing that "they knewe that ye sd Negro had an Indenture 
in one Mr. [Sandys] hand, on ye other side of ye Baye & 
... if the sd Anth. Johnson did not let ye negro go free 
the said negro Jno. Casor would recover most of his Cows 
from him ye sd Johnson " in compensation for service ren 
dered which was not due. Whereupon Anthony Johnson 
" was in a great f eare," and his " sonne in Law, his wife, & 
his own two sonnes persuaded the old negro Anth. Johnson 
to set the sd Jno. Casor free." 

The case would be interesting enough and very instructive 
if it had ended here, but the sequel is more interesting still. 
Upon more mature deliberation Anthony Johnson deter 
mined to make complaint in court 61 "against Mr. Robert 
Parker that hee detayneth one Jno. Casor a negro the plain 
tiff s Serv[an]t under pretense yt the sd Jno. Casor is a free- 

60 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, p. 226; 
1655-1658, p. 10. The spelling of the servant negro s name is not 
quite clear. As it appears in some places in the records it looks 
as if it might be Fasor. 

61 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, p. 226; 
1655-1658, p. 10. 


man." His complaint was received, and the court, " se 
riously considering & weighing ye premises," rendered the 
following verdict, than which there are none stranger on 
record: "The court . . . doe fynd that ye sd Mr. Robert 
Parker most unrightly keepeth ye sd Negro John Casor 
from his r[igh]t Mayster Anthony Johnson & ... Be it 
therefore ye Judgment of ye court & ordered that ye sd Jno. 
Casor negro shall forthwith return into ye service of his 
sd Mayster Anthony Johnson and that the sd Mr. Robert 
Parker make payment of all charges in the suite and ex 

This record is quoted at length because in itself it sup 
ports a number of important propositions: (i) Before the 
middle of the seventeenth century some negroes in the 
colony were servants by indenture under the laws of servi 
tude. (2) Some negro servants who had become freemen 
owned indented negro servants. The act of 1670 forbidding 
free negroes to own Christian servants but conceding them 
the right to own servants of their own race 62 is thus given 
a concrete explanation. (3) By the middle of the century 
it was with difficulty that an African immigrant escaped 
being reduced to slavery. If by the aid of a county court 
one negro could reduce to slavery another who unfortu 
nately was unable to produce his indenture, this proceeding 
taking place prior to any statute supporting slavery, it can 
readily be seen how difficult it had become for negroes to 
escape being made slaves for life by white masters into 
whose hands they came. 

It is noteworthy that all the records after the middle 
of the century indicate that slavery was fast becoming the 
rule. An entry upon the minutes of the general court in 
1656 shows that a " Mulatto was held to be a slave and 
appeal taken." 63 Negro servants were sometimes compelled 
by threats and browbeating to sign indentures for long terms 
after they had served out their original terms. In 1675 

M Hening, vol. ii, p. 280. 

83 General Court Records. Printed in Virginia Magazine of His 
tory, vol. viii, p. 163. 



complaint was made by Philip Cowen, a negro, that Charles 
Lucas, "not being willing that he should enjoy his freedom, 
did with threats and a high hand and by confederacy with 
some other persons " compel him to set his hand to a writ 
ing which Lucas claimed was an indenture for twenty years, 
and to acknowledge it in the county court of Warwick. 6 * 

Fifteen years before the passage of the first act in the Vir 
ginia slave code, white persons were making assignments of 
negroes as slaves, and county courts were recording and 
recognizing the validity of contracts involving the service 
of negroes for life, and, in the case of female negroes, the 
service of the female and her offspring. In 1646 Francis 
Pott, preparing to return to England, sold to Stephen Charl- 
ton a negro woman called Marchant and a negro boy called 
Will, to be " to ye use of him ... his heyers etc. forever." 65 
A contract was made and recorded in Northampton County 
in 1652 according to the terms of which William Whitting- 
ton "bargained & sold unto Jno. Pott ... his heyers, 
Exors. Adms. or Assigns one negro girle named Jowan, 
aged about ten years, with her Issue and produce . . . and 
their services forever." 66 

64 MS. in Virginia State Archives, at one time on exhibition in a 
glass case; compare Calendar of Virginia State Papers, vol. i, p. 10. 

The petitioner says that at the expiration of his term of service he 
was entitled to " enjoy his freedom & be paid three barrels of corn 
and a suit of clothes." This illustrates the statement of P. A. 
Bruce that upon the close of the negro servant s term he was 
entitled to the same quantity of clothing and corn as the white ser 
vant (Economic History of Virginia, vol. ii, p. 53). The practice 
is clearly stated in a petition made by a servant to the governor and 
council in 1660 : " yor petins lately servid Henry Sprat of ye County 
of Lower Norff. who icfuseth to pay him Corn and Cloths accord 
ing to custome for wh ye petins obtained order of ye aforesaid 
Court against ye sd Mr. Sprat & C" (Calendar of Virginia State 
Papers, vol. i, p. 4. See also Hening, vol. iii, p. 451). 

65 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, p. 28. 
Six years later the woman was living with Charlton, although dur 
ing the six years since her sale by Francis Pott she had run away 
from her new master to go and live with John Pott, and later left 
his service to return to Charlton. She apparently exercised some 
liberty in the choice of her master (MS. Court Records of North 
ampton County, 1651-1654, p. 81). 

66 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, p. 124. 
See also MS. Records of Lower Norfolk County, 1646-1651, p. 23, 


Some time before 1660 Jane Rookins and Henry Ran 
dolph jointly purchased a negro woman called Maria, with 
the understanding that she and her children should belong 
to William Rookins and William Randolph and their heirs. 
William Randolph died, and his father, Henry Randolph, by 
deed gave to William Rookins all his right and title to the 
negro woman and her children. A creditor of William 
Randolph obtained an order against the estate of the de 
ceased, and the Surry County court adjudged one half of 
the negroes, the negroes being Maria and her children, to 
belong to the estate of William Randolph. 67 

If further evidence is required to show that some negroes 
were regarded and held as slaves between 1640 and the date 
of the statutory sanction of slavery, it may be found in 
inventories of estates of some persons who held negroes. 
From the records of various counties it appears that negroes 
for whose service no limit is mentioned are valued in in 
ventories at 20 to 30 sterling, while white servants of the 
longest terms of service receive a valuation of not more 
than 15 sterling. 68 In the journal of the House of Bur 
gesses is recorded a petition of William Whittaker, an ex- 
member of the House, that he might be reimbursed from 
the public treasury for a loss incurred by an act of the 
House which set free a negro for whom the petitioner had 

for the deposition of Cornelius Loyd concerning " a little black 
negro boy" and his mother. The boy was given as a present to 
Thomas Silsey. See also Records of Northampton County, 1654- 
1655, April, 1654, for record of sale " unto Henry Armsteadinger 
one negro girle named patience to him . . . awid his heyers . . . for 
ever with all her increase both male and female." 

67 Petitions to the Governor and Council, in Virginia State Ar 
chives ; also printed in Calendar of Virginia State Papers, vol. i, 
PP- 2, 3. 

68 MS. Court Records of York County, 1657-1662, p. 195, in Vir 
ginia State Library. In 1668 two servants, one having four and a 
half and the other three years to serve, were valued at 12 each, but 
a negro woman whose term was not specified was valued at 27 
(ibid., 1664-1672, p. 291, in Virginia State Library). In an inven 
tory of the latter part of the century an Indian woman was valued 
as follows: " I Indian Woman, if a slave for life 25" (MS. Court 
Records of Elizabeth City County, 1684-1699, p. 223, in Virginia 
State Library). Compare P. A. Bruce, Economic History, vol. ii, 
PP- 51, 52. 


paid 25 sterling, but from whom he had had only twenty- 
one years of service. Hence it would seem that 25 was 
regarded as a price too high for servants except those whose 
terms were for life. 

In the inventory of the estate of William Burdett, re 
corded in 1643, Nehemia Freenton, aged twenty-two years, 
having eight years to serve, was rated at a thousand pounds 
of tobacco, while " Caine the negro boy, very Obedient/ 
was rated at three thousand pounds of tobacco. Edward 
Southers, "a. little Boy having seaven years to serve," was 
valued at seven hundred pounds of tobacco, while " one 
negro girle about 8 years old " was put down at two thou 
sand pounds. 69 The inventory of Major Peter Walker s es 
tate, recorded in 1655, shows that two good men servants 
having four years to serve were worth thirteen hundred 
pounds of tobacco each, and that a woman servant having 
two years to serve was worth eight hundred pounds of to 
bacco. Two negro boys with no term limit specified were 
rated at forty-one hundred pounds of tobacco each, and a 
negro girl was rated at fifty-five hundred pounds. 70 The 
valuation put upon the servants of Thomas Ludlowe of 
York County in 1660 reveals the fact that a white boy, a 
"seasoned hand," with six years to serve, was worth less 
than an old negro man and just half as much as Jugg, a 
negro woman. 71 The only reasonable explanation of the 
wide difference in the valuation of white servants having 
long terms of service and negroes whose terms of service 
were not specified is that the negroes were servants to whose 
service no limit was set, that is, slaves. 

Thus it appears that before legislation affected in any way 
the development of slavery the institution had grown up, 
and without doubt included within its scope a large part of 
the African immigrants who arrived after 1640. Be it re 
membered, however, that the legislative recognition and 

09 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1640-1645, p. 225. 
70 Ibid., 1654-1655, p. no. 

T1 MS. Court Records of York County, 1657-1662, pp. 275, 278, 
in Virginia State Library. 


sanction so abundantly given to slavery between 1660 and 
1670 did not broaden the institution to include all Africans. 
The first slave laws reduced to a status of slavery no free 
negroes or negroes who were servants by covenant or con 
tract. On the contrary, these first laws dealing with the 
status of the Africans in Virginia recognized the free negro 
as amply as they did the slave. The first one of these acts, 
passed in 1662, provided that the status of offspring should 
follow the status of the mother. 72 Far from reducing free 
negroes to slavery, this act provided for the perpetuation 
of the free negro population in the provision which, as ap 
plied to this class of persons, guaranteed to free colored 
females the right to extend their free status to their off 
spring. The act of 1668 dealing with the condition of the 
colored population related solely to the tax obligations of a 
free negro woman, 73 and two years later an act guaranteed 
to "negroes manumitted or otherwise free" the right to 
own servants of their own race, and expressly denied to 
them the right to purchase or to own white or " Christian " 
servants. 74 Here again we see in the first laws which rec 
ognized and sanctioned slavery a guaranty of the continuity 
of the free negro class. 

Proof of the persistence of a free negro population, how 
ever, is not confined to inference from statutes. The county 
court and church records continue without a break the 
record of the free and servant negro through the period 
when slavery was given the legislative sanction. In Decem 
ber, 1656, Benjamin Doyle, a negro, was granted a patent 
for three hundred acres of land in Surry County, " due 
... by and for the transportation of six persons into the 
colony." 75 In addition to the free negro landowners of 
Accomac County already mentioned, the records specify a 
few others. In 1651 John Johnson, a negro, received as 
head rights for the importation of eleven persons a tract of 

73 Hening, vol. ii, p. 170. 
X " Ibid., vol. ii, p. 267. 

74 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 280. 

75 MS. Land Patents, 1655-1664, pp. 71, 72. 


five hundred and fifty acres adjoining the tract granted to 
Richard Johnson. 78 There is also a record of a grant in 
1651 of fifty acres to John Johnson, sr. 77 A few years later 
John Johnson, a negro, entered suit against John Johnson, sr., 
to recover four hundred and fifty acres of land. 78 Certainly 
this land owned by free negroes remained, for many years 
at least, in their possession or in the possession of their de 
scendants. 79 In 1667 Emanuel Cambew, a negro, received 
a grant of fifty acres in James City County. 80 The next 
year a deed calling for fifty acres was executed by Robert 
Jones, a tailor of Queen s Creek, to " John Harris negro his 
heyers, Executrs, Admtrs, & Assigns forever." 81 Some 
time after 1676 a lease of two hundred acres for a period 
of ninety-nine years was issued by John Parker to Philip 
Morgan, a negro. 82 In one instance at least a negro ser 
vant became the overseer of his master s servants. Beverly 
defines an overseer as " a man who having served his time 
has acquired Skill and Character of an experienced Planter 
and is, therefore, intrusted with the Direction of the Ser 
vants and Slaves." 83 In 1669 Hannah Warwick, probably 
a white servant, on trial before the general court, produced 
in extenuation of her case convincing evidence that her 
overseer was a negro. 84 In 1673 a judgment was rendered 
by the general court against Mr. George Light, who had 
unlawfully detained in servitude beyond his contract term 
of five years a negro indented servant. It was ordered that 

78 MS. Land Patents, 1652-1655, p. 101. 

7T MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, pp. 
17, 18. 

78 Ibid., p. 200. 

79 J. C. Wise, Ye Kingdome of Accawmacke, p. 285. 

80 MS. Land Patents, no. 6, p. 39. 

81 MS. Court Records of York County, 1664-1672, p. 327, in Vir 
ginia State Library. 

82 MS. Court Records of Accomac County, 1676-1690, p. 185, 
quoted in P. A. Bruce, Economic History, vol. ii, p. 127 n. See MS. 
Records of Northampton County, 1683-1689, p. 258, for a judgment 
against the estate of a mulatto. 

83 Book iv, p. 37; compare P. A. Bruce, Economic History, vol. ii, 
p. 18. 

84 General Court Records. Printed in Virginia Magazine of His 
tory, vol. viii, p. 163. 


the negro should " be free from his said master and that the 
said Mr. Light pay him Corne and Clothes according to the 
Custome of the Country and four hundred pounds tobac & 
Caske for his service Done him since he was free and pay 
costs." 85 

The upper limit of the period in which it was possible for 
negroes to come to Virginia as servants and to acquire free 
dom after a limited term is the year 1682. A law of 1670 
was intended to enslave all negroes brought in after its 
enactment, but in practice it permitted a few to escape. 
In 1678 two men of African blood were sold for terms of 
seven years by inhabitants of Boston to residents of Vir 
ginia. 86 Under the provisions of the law of 1670 "all ser 
vants not being Christians imported into this colony by ship 
ping" were to be slaves for their lives, but such servants 
as came by land were to "serve, if boys and girls until 
thirty years of age, if men or women, twelve years and no 
longer." 87 After this act had been in force twelve years, 
the preamble of a new act asserted that "many negroes, 
Moors, mulattoes and others " born in a heathen country 
and of heathen parents had, before coming to Virginia, been 
converted to the Christian faith, and that such persons, 
when sold in Virginia, had to be sold as servants for a lim 
ited term. Hence an act was passed repealing the law of 
1670 and making slaves of all persons of non-Christian 
nationalities thereafter coming into the colony, whether 
they came by sea or land and whether or not they had been 
converted to Christianity after capture. 88 

After the enactment of this law the free negro population 

S5 General Court Records, p. 161. 

89 Bill of Sale: "I, John Indicott, cooper, Inhabitant of Boston 
in New England, have sold unto Richard Medlicott A Spanish 
Mulatto, by name Antonio. I having full power to sell him for his 
life time. But at the request of William Taylor, I doe sell him 
But for seven years from the day that he shall Disembark in Vir 
ginia " (MS. Court Records of Middlesex County, Virginia, March 
5, 1677-1678. See also ibid., May 18, 1678. Cited in William and 
Mary College Quarterly, vol. vi, p. 117). 

T Hening, vol. ii, p. 283. 

88 Ibid., vol. ii, pp. 490, 491. 


in Virginia received from imported negroes no more re 
cruits of which we have any record until after the non 
importation act of I778. 89 By 1662 other means of growth 
had been opened up to this class. For the next two hun 
dred years the free colored population was increased by five 
classes of colored persons springing from the population 
already existing. The classes may be enumerated as 
follows : 

(1) Children born of free colored parents. The rule of 
partus sequitur ventrem was applied consistently from 1662 
to 1865, and natural increase or procreation was throughout 
this period an important factor in the growth of the free 
negro population. 

(2) Mulatto children born of free colored mothers. 

(3) Mulatto children born of white servant or free 

The most numerous class of the mulattoes was of slave- 
women parentage, but such children were slaves. Both 
classes of free mulattoes were the product of illegitimacy, 
since the laws prohibited the intermarriage of whites and 
negroes, bond or free. 90 Under the provisions of the law 
of 1691 free mulatto bastards were bound by the church 
wardens as apprentices to responsible white persons for 
a term ending upon their attaining the age of thirty years. 91 
In the revision of this act in 1705 one year was added to 
the period of apprenticeship. 92 By 1774 this long-term 
apprenticeship had come to be regarded as bearing "an 
unreasonable severity toward such children," and it was 
shortened to twenty-one years for males and eighteen years 
for females. 93 After the disestablishment of the Anglican 

89 The last clause of the act of this date for preventing the further 
importation of slaves into Virginia declared: "That every slave 
imported into this commonwealth, contrary to the true intent and 
meaning of this act, shall upon importation become free" (Hening, 
vol. ix, p. 471; vol. xii, p. 182). Under the operation of this pro 
vision a few negroes occasionally recovered their freedom (5 Call, 
425; MS. Petitions, A 2880, A 2882). 

80 Hening, vol. iii, p. 87. 

91 Ibid. 

92 Ibid., vol. iii, p. 453- 

93 Ibid., vol. viii, pp. 134, 135- 


church in 1785 this class of persons were bound out by the 
overseers of the poor as they had been previously by the 
church wardens. 94 

(4) Children of free negro and Indian mixed parentage. 
If such children had no visible means of support, they were 
bound out as apprentices, just as were free mulatto children. 
The offspring of all colored apprentices born during the 
apprenticeship became, by the mere force of the law, ap 
prentices to the masters of their mothers on terms similar 
to those under which the mothers were bound. 95 All col 
ored apprentices were counted with the free colored popu 
lation even during their apprenticeship. 

(5) Manumitted slaves. Manumission was the most im 
portant of all the methods by which the free colored popula 
tion was increased in numbers. In an act of 1670 occurred 
the words " negroes manumitted and otherwise free." Hav 
ing considered in this chapter the "otherwise free," the 
following chapter will be devoted to those who were 

M Hening, vol. xii, pp. 27, 28. 

95 Gwinn v. Bugg, Jefferson s Reports, 87 (1769); Howell v. 
Netherland, Jefferson s Reports, 90 (1770). 


Manumission is the term which may be applied to all the 
various processes by which negroes in Virginia were taken 
from a condition of slavery and legally raised to a status 
of freedom, saving only that act of the nation by which 
slavery was abolished in all the States and to which is prop 
erly applied the term emancipation. 1 There are three gen 
eral methods by which slaves in Virginia were manumitted 
or legally set free during the life of the institution of slav 
ery: (i) by an act of the legislature, (2) by last will and 
testament, and (3) by deed. A still more general classifica 
tion recognizes only two kinds of manumission public and 
private, the first of the three methods above being classed 
as public manumission and the last two of the three bearing 
the name of private manumission. 

According to strict legal theory and the conception of 
slavery maintained by the courts in Virginia in the nine 
teenth century, there were no private manumissions. A so- 
called private manumission, that is, a manumission by will 
or deed, was not in fact the act of the slave-owner, but was 
" the conjoint act of the law and the master." 2 " The ques 
tion of emancipation," said the Virginia supreme court of 
appeals in 1830, " is a question of statutory law and can only 
be resolved by referring to the terms of the statute." 3 In 
theory, a master who freed a slave exercised a power dele- 

1 Emancipation in Virginia came as a result of the Civil War, 
and was an accomplished fact at its close in the spring of 1865. 
Emancipation was formally accepted by the General Assembly in 
a joint resolution of February 6, 1866 (Acts of the General Assem 
bly of Virginia, 1865-1866, p. 449, cited as Acts; Richmond Whig, 
August n, 1865; J. P. McConnell, Negroes and their Treatment in 
Virginia from 1865 to 1867, P- I] 0- 

2 Wood v. Humphreys, 12 Grattan, 333 (1855). 

3 Thrift v. Hannah, 2 Leigh, 319. 



gated to him by statute. To regulate or determine the status 
of individuals was a sovereign power. By manumission, 
individuals who were " in truth civiliter mortuus"* and who 
had the character of property rather than of persons were 
raised to life and personality within the State and accorded 
civil rights and civil liberty. The power to do this was of 
such a high and sovereign character that not even the legis 
lature could exercise it except by delegation from the con 
stituent legislative authority. Indeed, a practical applica 
tion was made of the theory in 1849, when the constitutional 
convention expressly denied to the General Assembly the 
power to manumit a slave. 5 

Viewing slavery as a legal status imposed upon persons 
by the laws, it is not surprising that the colonial legislature, 
which enacted the first slave laws and freely imposed the 
slave status upon certain persons, should assume that it had 
the power to set slaves free. The first use in Virginia of 
the legislative power to break the bonds of a slave was made 
in 1710. A negro slave named Will had been " signally 
serviceable in discovering a conspiracy of divers Negroes 
for levying war in this colony," and in recognition and re 
ward of this public service an act was passed conferring 
freedom upon him. 6 However, it was never the policy of 
the colonial legislature to exercise its power to manumit 
slaves except for some such special service or merit as that 
for which the slave Will received his freedom. In 1723 it 
delegated to the governor and the council the power to pass 
upon the merit of any claims to freedom based upon meri 
torious service performed by a slave. 7 But upon an occa 
sion which arose out of circumstances connected with the 
Revolutionary War the legislature deemed it expedient to 
resume the exercise of its right to pass a private act of 

* Peter v. Hargrave, 5 Grattan, 12. 

5 Constitution of Virginia, 1851, sections 19, 20, 21; Journal, Acts, 
and Proceedings of a General Convention, 1850, appendix, p. 8. 

" The said Negro Will is and shall be forever hereafter free from 
his slavery . . . and shall enjoy and have all the liberties, privileges, 
and immunities of or to a free negro belonging" (Hening, vol. iii, 
P- 536). 

7 Hening, vol. iv, p. 132. 


manumission. The circumstances were that while Lord 
Dunmore, the royal governor, who had deserted his office 
and fled the province, was absent from the seat of govern 
ment, application was made for permission to manumit the 
slaves of John Barr, of Northumberland County, who had 
in his will expressed the desire that they should be free. In 
the absence of His Excellency the consent of the governor 
and the council obviously could not be obtained. Fortu 
nately for the petitioners, the Assembly considered that the 
peculiar circumstances justified a special legislative dispen 
sation. An act was passed confirming Barr s will, but spec 
ifying that the act should establish no precedent except in 
cases exactly similar. 8 

The act did, however, become a precedent in one respect, 
namely, as to the location of the power to pass upon appli 
cations for permission to manumit slaves. The Assembly 
continued to perform the function, previously exercised by 
the council, of receiving and passing upon the merit of ap 
plications. " Application having been made" in 1779, a 
special act of the legislature was passed manumitting three 
slaves, John Hope, a mulatto named William Beck, and 
Pegg. 9 Upon similar application made in 1780 the legisla 
ture set free Ned, the property of Henry Delony, and Kate, 
who belonged to Benjamin Bilberry. 10 

As indicative of the policy of the legislature with refer 
ence to the use of this power of freeing persons from slav 
ery, as well as in illustration of the form of such acts, we 
quote from the laws the following specimen of acts of 
manumission : 

An act for the manumission of a certain Slave. 

WHEREAS a negro man slave named Kitt the property of Hinchia 
Mabry, of the County of Brunswick, hath lately rendered meritori 
ous service in this commonwealth, in making the first information 
and discovery against several persons concerned in counterfeiting 
money, whereby so dangerous a confederacy has been in some meas 
ure broken, and some of the offenders have been discovered and 

8 Hening, vol. ix, p. 320. 

9 Ibid., vol. x, p. 211. 

10 Ibid., vol. x, p. 372. 


brought to trial; and it is judged expedient to manumit him for 
such service; Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That 
the said Kitt be, and is hereby declared to be emancipated and set 
free ; any law or usage to the contrary notwithstanding." 

From the Revolutionary War onward a more extensive 
and general use was made of this form of manumission than 
merely to reward acts of public service. The legislature be 
came a sort of court of equity for granting relief to masters 
who were confronted with legal or other difficulties in free 
ing their slaves as well as for extending mercy to slaves of 
a deserving or piteous character. 12 In more than one in 
stance special legislative acts were obtained to give legal 
validity to wills of manumission recorded before the act of 
1782 authorizing this procedure. 13 Hundreds of colored 
petitioners sought special acts that they might not be de 
prived of freedom because of mistake or oversight or fraud 
in the execution of a will or of an expressed intention of a 
master to set them free. 1 * Among the acts of a private 
nature passed in the period of the Commonwealth down to 
about 1825 are to be found a large number of acts setting 
slaves free or granting such as were already liberated a 
legal right to reside in the State. 15 

The method of manumission by an act of the legislature 
is not the method the genesis of which requires the more 
detailed explanation. The colonial House of Burgesses, the 
sovereign legislative body in Virginia, inferred from its 
right to make, its right to unmake, a slave. But what was 

"Hening, vol. x, p. 115 (1779). It was further enacted that the 
treasurer of the Commonwealth " pay to Hinchia Mabry . . . the 
sum of one thousand pounds [of tobacco] out of the publick treas 
ury, as a full compensation for the said slave." In all cases where 
the special act of manumission was in reward of a public service, 
provision was made for compensating the owner of the slave for his 
loss. Cf. Hening, vol. iii, p. 619; vol. xi, p. 309. 

13 See, for example, an act of 1792 manumitting Rosetta Hailstock 
and her three children, who had been barred from freedom by a 
legal technicality (Hening, vol. viii, p. 618). See also ibid., vol. xi, 
P- 363. 

* Hening, vol. xii, pp. 611-613; vol. xiii, p. 619. 

" For example, see MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1818, A 9290. 

"Acts of a private character, 1811-1812, p. 131; 1813-1814, p. 153; 
1814-1815, p. 151. The private acts of almost any year within the 
above-named period will afford examples. 


the origin of the right of an individual slave-owner to be 
stow civil rights and civil liberties upon a slave, which in 
the eyes of the law was a thing? Manumission by a will 
or a deed cannot be regarded as merely a transfer of the 
property rights in the slave from the master to the slave, 
because in the eyes of the law there existed " no right in the 
slave to acquire property." 16 " Manumission," said Judge 
Tucker, " is not strictly speaking a gift of property. It is 
the exoneration of a human being from the bonds which 
our institutions have fastened upon him." 17 

Now, the first law which could be construed as delegating 
to or conferring upon slave-owners any right to make free 
men of their slaves was enacted in 1691, 18 but it appears 
from the records of the county courts that manumissions 
had been taking place several decades before this act was 
passed. In fact, the act itself, which was a rigid restriction 
upon the right of private manumission, shows that the act 
did not originate the right. The first wills of manumission 
in the colony were made and recorded not only prior to the 
statute of 1691, but also in advance of any statute in regard 
to slavery. To reconcile these facts with the nineteenth 
century theory of manumission, Judge Brooks, speaking 
for the court in Thrift v. Hannah, said, "Although it had 
been the practice of owners of slaves to emancipate their 
slaves before the act of 1691, that practice gave no perfect 
right to owners, of their own will to emancipate their 
slaves." 19 

The origin of that practice has its explanation in the close 
relations of indented servitude and slavery in the seven 
teenth century. Before slavery as an institution had fully 
diverged from indented servitude it borrowed from that 
system the practice of manumission by individual masters. 
Under the system of indented servitude the time or term 
of service for which a servant was bound was, though the 

19 Ruddle s Executors v. Ben, 10 Leigh, 480 (1839). 
"Parks v. Hewlett, 9 Leigh, 511 (1838). 

18 Hening, vol. iii, p. 87. 

19 2 Leigh, 319. See also argument of council in Phoebe et al. v. 
Boggess, i Grattan, 129 (1844). 


servant himself was not, regarded as property. The unex- 
pired time of a servant could be alienated, like other prop 
erty, by gift, sale, or bequest. 20 The servant, unlike the 
slave of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was capa 
ble of contracting and of holding property. If the master 
of a servant chose to sell or make a gift of the servant s 
unexpired time to the servant himself, the servant was 
capable of receiving the same and would thereafter owe 
service to no man. For example, the will of Samuel 
Thacker, of Essex County, contained this item : " I give 
unto my servant, John Glary, one year of his time." 21 It 
has been noted in the chapter on negro servitude that evi 
dence of the discharge of a negro servant was sometimes 
recorded in a written instrument. Now, in the seventeenth 
century the processes by which masters set negroes free, 
whether they were servants for a time or for life, were more 
like discharges from servitude than manumissions from 

In 1655 Richard Vaughan, of Northampton County, had 
recorded by the county court the following declaration re 
specting one of his negroes : " These testify that Mr. Rich 
Vaughan doe hereby acquitt & discharge one negro Boye 
known by the name of James from all Claymes or Demands 
of service for myself, heyers, Exors., Adms. provided the 
negro do not covenant with any person but shall keepe him- 
selfe free." 22 

Two years later Anne Barnhouse, of York County, exe 
cuted an instrument of writing which in form was quite 
similar to the deeds of manumission of the eighteenth and 
nineteenth centuries. It reads as follows : " Mihill Gowen 

20 As an example of the transfer of the time of servants by be 
quest, note the following will, of date 1657 : " I Francis Jones Wid- 
dow of ye county of York Doe freely give unto my Loving Sonne 
Francis Townshend these servants and cattle . . . Five Servants & 
one child their names John Reeves, John Keech, Richard Poutry, 
John Swillinante & one negro woman named sarah and his child 
Francis two years old" (MS. Court Records of York County, 
1657-1662, p. 88. Compare Ballagh, White Servitude, pp. 43, 44). 

a Essex County Records, 1713, abstracts printed in Virginia Mag 
azine of History, vol. xviii, p. 329. 

22 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1655-1658, p. 3. 


negro late servant of my brother Xopher Stafford Deced^ 
. . . had his Freedome given him by his last will & Testa 
ment 1654 after expiration of four years service unto 
my Uncle Robert Stafford therefore know that I absolutely 
quitt & discharge the said Mihill Gowen from any service 
and forever set him free." 23 

In a similar writing of the same date Anne Barnhouse 
assigned as a gift to Mihill Gowen a child of his, born of a 
negro woman belonging to Anne Barnhouse during Gowen s 
four-year term of service. The writing binds Anne Barn- 
house "never to trouble or molest the said Mihill Gowen 
or his said son William or demand any service of Mihill or 
his son." 24 Even if the negroes discharged by these legal 
instruments were slaves prior to their discharge, it is per 
fectly clear that the conception which their owners had of 
slavery was not such as prevailed at a later time. A slave, 
in the seventeenth century conception, was merely a person 
serving for life. If such slave, who was then regarded as 
a person and not as a thing (as he later came to be), were 
discharged and given a pledge by his master that no further 
service would be demanded, he went as a free man, just as 
did a servant freed at the expiration of a period of contract 
servitude. In the nineteenth century the gift or assignment 
of a slave child to its free father, as in the case of the gift 
by Anne Barnhouse of the child William to its father, would 
have rendered the child a slave to its father ; but in the sev 
enteenth century the result of such a process was the com 
plete freedom of the child. 

Not only in such of these early writings as took the form 
of deeds of manumission, but also in the earliest recorded 
wills bequeathing freedom we see the analogy between man 
umission as first practiced and the discharge from servitude 
of indented servants. As was shown in a former chapter, 
it was the custom and later the law of indented servitude 
that the servant, white or colored, receive from his master 

23 MS. Court Records of York County, 1657-1662, p. 45, in Vir 
ginia State Library. 

24 Ibid. 


at the time of his discharge from servitude a certain amount 
of property called " freedom dues." 25 Nearly all of the 
seventeenth century wills of manumission contained grants 
of property to the liberated negroes. The earliest of which 
we have any record is that of Richard Vaughan, written in 
1645 and recorded in 1656, making bequests of a consider 
able amount of property to each negro set free. 26 In 1657 
Nicholas Martin, of York County, left a will setting free 
two negroes, and providing that "each of them have . . . 
one Cow and Three Barrells of Corne Clothes & Nayles to 
build them a house." 27 Thomas Whitehead of the same 
county died about 1660, leaving a will which shows that the 
testator believed that he was merely releasing his negro 
from further obligations of service or simply shortening a 
servant s term. The item of the will giving to the negro the 
right which the testator had had to his service reads : " I 
sett my negro free ... he shall be his own man from any 
person or persons whatsoever." 

This negro was considered by his master as having the 

26 See above, p. 34 n. 

" The last will and testament of Mr. Richard Vaughan planter 
in Ocohamocke, in Accomacke. . . . 

"And for my old Negro woman (after my decease) to remayne 
with her Dame, till her Dames decease; and then bee free; and to 
receive twoe Cowes wth calfe (or calves by their side) two suits 
of clothes, a bedd & a Rugge, a chest & a pott with foure Barrells 
of Corne & a younge breedinge Sowe; Likewise my Negro girle 
Temperance (after my decease) to bee possessed of two Cowes and 
to have their increase male and female ; and she to remayne with 
her Dame ... to be brought up in the Fear of God & to be taught 
to read & make her owne clothes, and after her Dames decease 
[and when] she come to twenty yeares of age ... to receive two 
cows with calves (or calves by their side) Two good suits of clothes, 
a good Bedd & Bowlster & a Rugg & two Blanketts & a pott and 
one great Brass Kettle with Four Barrells of corne & a younge 
breeding sowe." 

The rest of the negroes, three in number, were provided for in 
a similar way, and then there was appended the clause " that ye 
three Negro girls be possessed of the plantacon of Jno Walthome 
beinge to this plantacon some hundred & forty & four acres of land; 
and he to build them a Home twenty-five feete in length and 
twenty feete broad, with one chimney" (MS. Court Records of 
Northampton County, 1654-1655, pp. 102, 103). 

27 MS. Court Records of York County, 1633-1694, p. 108, in Vir 
ginia State Library. 


capacity to receive the property rights in the negro s time 
and also certain of the master s personal effects ; for other 
items of the will provided as follows : " I give my negro 
man named John all my wearing clothes, my shirts & hatts 
& shoes and stockings and all that I used to weare. I give 
unto my negro named John Two Cows One called gentle 
and the other a black heifer & I give him house & ground 
to plant upon as much as he shall tend himselfe & peaceably 
to enjoy it his life time without trouble." A short time 
after this will was recorded the county court of York de 
cided that the instrument had the effect of making the negro 
a free man, and that he was legally entitled to come into 
possession of the property bequeathed to him by his master. 28 
All the instances of manumissions by individual masters 
above cited occurred before the institution of slavery had 
reached the legislative phase of its development. The first 
slavery legislation, in 1662, in no way interrupted the prac 
tice of manumission. Whether the frequency of private 
manumissions in the seventeenth century was a result more 
of a strong body of sentiment favorable to freedom than 
of an imperfect, immature development of the system of 
slavery is a question that may not be answered with cer 
tainty. Probably the freedom of some negroes was due to 
the one and the freedom of others due to the other of these 
conditions, but the evidence points clearly to the fact that 
up to 1691 the class of " negroes manumitted " was becom 
ing noticeably larger. The tax obligations of this class 
formed a subject of legislation in i67O. 29 In 1684 John 
Farrar, of Henrico County, wrote in his will the following 
item : " I give unto my negroe Jack his freedom after Christ 
mas day next & in ye meantime he continue on my plantation 
& use his endeavors with the rest of my hands to make a 
Cropp." 30 Daniell Parke, of York County, in 1687, " con 
sidering the time and ffaithful Service" of one of his ne- 

28 MS. Court Records of York County, 1657-1662, p. 217, in Vir 
ginia State Library. 

29 Hening, vol. ii, p. 280. 

30 MS. Court Records of Henrico County, 1677-1692, p. 299, in 
Virginia State Library. 


groes, willed that he should be free at the time of the tes 
tator s death, and should have an annual allowance of 
provisions. 31 The will of Nathaniel Bacon, sr., in 1691, 
bequeathed to " Molatto Kate her freedome, Itt being 
formerly promised by my deceased wife." 32 The will of 
John Carter, proved in Lancaster, June n, 1690, gave free 
dom to " several negroes." 33 

By the year 1690 the free negro class had become an object 
of suspicion and fear. The increasing frequency of manu 
missions created apprehensions as to the consequences of 
allowing the practice to continue, and restrictive legislation 
was deemed expedient. The preamble of the restrictive act, 
which was passed in 1691, declared a law to be necessary 
to prevent manumissions, because " great inconvenience may 
happen to this country by setting of negroes and mulattoes 
free by their either entertaining negro slaves or receiving 
stolen goods or being grown old bringing a charge upon the 
country. 34 Under the provisions of this act no negro or 
mulatto was to be set free unless the person so doing should 
pay the charges for transporting the manumitted negro be 
yond the limits of the colony. Thus was devised a scheme 
which would offer three obstacles to the increase of the free 
negro class: A charge of transportation would restrain the 
master; the prospect of banishment would restrain the de 
sire of the slave to be free. Should both of these restraints 
fail in any case, removal would prevent addition to the free 
colored class. 35 

31 The will bound the executors to " allow unto the said negro 
fifteene Bushells of Clean shilled Corne and fifty pounds of dryed 
beif to be delivered him annually as long as hee shall live. Also 
one Kersey Coat and Britches, two pair of yarne stockings two 
white or blew shirts one pair of blew drawers an Axe a Hoe and to 
pay his leavies " (MS. Court Records of York County, 1687-1691, 
p. 278, in Virginia State Library). 

32 MS. Court Records of York County, 1690-1694, p. 154, in Vir 
ginia State Library. 

33 Virginia Magazine of History, vol. xi, p. 237. 
M Hening, vol. iii, p. 87. 

85 Under the provisions of this law Richard Trother, of York 
County, near the close of the century made his will which reads : 
" I will that old negro Peter and negro Tom have their true and 


The conduct of the legislature in 1710 in manumitting by 
special act a negro slave might appear to be inconsistent 
with the restrictive policy begun in 1691, unless the legis 
lative purpose in both instances be kept in view. The 
policy of the colonial legislature, begun in 1710, of reward 
ing with freedom any acts of special merit in slaves was no 
indication of the growth of freedom sentiment. Its real 
intent was a more perfect disciplining of negroes in slavery. 
Freedom in the case of the negro Will was awarded as an 
example to discourage in slaves that which most free ne 
groes were suspected of encouraging, namely, insubordina 
tion and any disposition to plot mischief. Danger from con 
spiring and plotting negroes was the common object at 
which both laws were designed to strike. 

Notwithstanding the effort made to prevent servile insur 
rection, new conspiracies were discovered within the next 
dozen years, and the fears of the people were again much 
aroused. " Tumultuous and unlawful meetings," " secret 
plots and conspiracies carried on among" all classes of ne 
groes, " dangerous combinations," the exchange of advice 
" to rebel and make insurrection," brought the colonial leg 
islature to declare existing laws " insufficient." 36 The free 
negroes, suspected and accused upon every occasion of an 
outbreak, became in this instance the objects of restrictive 
legislation. By an act passed in 1723 they were forbidden 
to visit or meet with slaves and to carry or own a firelock. 37 
They were deprived of the right to vote at elections and dis 
criminated against in the levying of taxes ; 38 but still, de 
spairing of success in restraining the free negro by drastic 
police measures, the legislature determined to prohibit en 
tirely manumission by individual slave-owners. In 1723 
an act was passed which declared that under no pretense 

perfect liberty and freedome six days after my wife s decease and 
15 pounds sterling money to be paid apiece for their transporta 
tion" (MS. Court Records of York County, 1694-1/02, p. 194, in 
Virginia State Library). 
39 Hening, vol. iv, p. 126. 

37 Ibid., vol. iv, p. 131. 

38 Ibid., vol. iv, p. 133. 


whatsoever could a master, without the license of the gov 
ernor and the council, manumit a slave. 30 Moreover, " meri 
torious service " was made the sole ground upon which per 
mission might be obtained for setting free a slave. 40 If 
this law prohibiting manumission were violated, it became 
the duty of the churchwardens of the parish in which the 
violation occurred to apprehend and sell the negro "by 
public outcry," and to apply the receipts to the use of the 

From this time till near the end of the colonial period, or, 
in other words, for nearly half a century, the policy of pro 
hibiting voluntary manumission met with little opposition. 41 
The provisions of 1723 were reenacted in 1748 with no 
alterations that indicate a desire to allow to the free negro 
class wider liberty or possibility of increase. 42 Under the 
enforced prohibitions of these laws, manumissions were few 
and widely separated. 43 The " meritorious service " for 
which a slave could expect to be rewarded with freedom 
was something more than faithfulness of service. In 1729 
the discovery by a slave of an herb medicine by which won 
derful cures could be effected merited favorable action by 
the governor and the council. 44 Rev. Charles Greene de- 

^Hening, vol. iv, p. 132. 

40 Cf. J. B. Minor, Institutes of Common and Statute Law, vol. 
i, p. 167. 

41 That " the manumission of slaves was never popular in the 
colony" was the opinion of a writer so careful of statement as 
H. B. Grigsby (Collections of the Virginia Historical Society, vol. 
x, p. 133- Cited as Virginia Historical Collections). 

42 Hen ing, vol. vi, p. 112. 

" The number of manumissions under such restrictions must 
necessarily have been very few" (St. G. Tucker, A Dissertation on 
Slavery, ed. 1796, p. 71). 

44 Governor Gooch asserted in a letter to the Board of Trade that 
he had " met with a negro, a very old man who has performed many 
wonderful cures of diseases. For the sake of his freedom he has 
revealed the medicine, a concoction of roots and barks. . . . 
There is no room to doubt of its being a certain remedy here & of 
singular use among the negroes it is well worth the price (60) of 
the negro s freedom since it is now known how to cure slaves with 
out mercury" (Sainsbury Transcripts from the British Public 
Record Office, vol. ix, p. 462). 


sired to manumit his slave woman, Sarah, in 1767, but under 
the laws in force he could not carry out his desire. 45 

Up to 1763, the date of the close of the struggle between 
the English and the French colonies in America, wars and 
troubles with the Indians had occupied so much of the at 
tention of the people that there was little opportunity for the 
growth of an enlightened sentiment favorable to freedom 
for the negroes, whose labor was proving so valuable in the 
development of the resources of the colony. Jefferson once 
wrote that at the time when our controversy with England 
was still " on paper only, few minds had yet doubted but 
they [the negroes] were as legitimate subjects of property 
as their horses or cattle." 46 Andrew Burnaby, travelling in 
Virginia from 1759 to 1760, asserted that "their [the peo 
ple s] ignorance of mankind and of learning exposes them 
to many errors and prejudices, especially in regard to In 
dians and Negroes, whom they scarcely consider of the 
human species." 47 

This statement was written at about as late a date as it 
could have been truthfully made, for the principles of the 
rights of man and freedom by nature could not effect a revo 
lution against foreign oppression and not ameliorate the 
hard situation of Virginia s black population. An article 
in the Virginia Gazette in 1767 began with the following sig 
nificant words, " Long and serious reflections upon the na 
ture and consequences of slavery," and went on to say that 
"now, as freedom is unquestionably the birth-right of all 
mankind, Africans as well as Europeans, to keep the former 
in a state of slavery is a constant violation of the right and 

45 MS. Petitions, Fairfax County, 1785, A 5460. 

48 To Edward Coles, August 25, 1814, in H. S. Randall, Life of 
Thomas Jefferson, vol. iii, p. 643. W. Goodell erroneously used this 
sentence from Jefferson s letter to describe the condition or state 
of sentiment in Virginia at the time the letter was written (The 
American Slave Code in Theory and Practice, p. 48). The time of 
which Jefferson was writing was when he " came into public life " 
before the war with England. The statement would not have been 
true had it been made with reference to conditions in 1814. 

* T Travels through the Middle Settlements of North America, p. 54, 


therefore justice." 48 Two years later Thomas Jefferson be 
came a member of the legislature, and upon his initiative 
and with his aid Colonel Bland, one of the oldest, ablest, 
and most respected members of that body, pressed forward 
a proposition to remove the restrictions which for forty-six 
years the laws had imposed upon voluntary manumission. 
"I seconded his motion," wrote Jefferson, "and as a younger 
member was more spared in the debate, but he was de 
nounced as an enemy to his country and was treated with 
the greatest indecorum." 49 Opposition to the measure was 
as yet overpowering, but the kind of support it received 
augured well for a later victory. Even a legislature as con 
servative as this one declared that the discriminatory tax 
levied upon free negroes and mulattoes since 1668 was 
" derogatory to the rights of free born subjects," and, there 
fore, that it stood repealed. 50 A new antislavery spirit 
which was nation-wide in its operation was powerfully 
affecting sentiment in Virginia. While that spirit was ris 
ing at the North which was to culminate from 1777 to 1785 
in acts of emancipation in Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massa 
chusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, 
and in a manumission act in Maryland, it was destined to 
grow and spread in Virginia till it effected the repeal of the 
old restraints upon manumission, and strongly threatened 
the existence of the institution of slavery in that State. 

The movement in Virginia kept a remarkably even pace 
with the American Revolution. Since both were applica 
tions of the principles of natural equality and individual lib 
erty, they must indeed be viewed as two parts of the same 
current of progress. " The glorious and ever memorable 
Revolution," argued many petitioners of the legislature, 
"can be justified on no other principles, but what do plead 
with still greater force for the emancipation of our slaves 

48 Virginia Gazette, March 19, 1767, quoted in Views of American 
Slavery, Taken a Century Ago, p. 109. 

"Jefferson to Edward Coles, August 25, 1814, in Randall, Life of 
Jefferson, vol. iii, p. 643 ; G. Tucker, Life of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 
i, p. 46. 

60 Hening, vol. ii, p. 267 ; vol. viii, p. 393. 


in proportion as the oppression exercised over them ex 
ceeds the oppression formerly exercised over the United 
States by Great Britain." 51 

This logical application of the Revolutionary philosophy, 
though not quite convincing to the legislature, was freely 
and conscientiously accepted by many individuals. 52 From 
the beginning of the war it became quite common among 
slave-owners to apply the doctrine; for example, John 
Payne, of Hanover County, in the year of the Declaration 
of Independence freed his slave because he was "persuaded 
that liberty is the natural condition of all mankind. " 53 Some 
slave-owners ignored the laws, as did Charles Moorman, a 
Quaker, of Louisa County, who in 1778 executed a deed of 
manumission relinquishing his right to thirty-three slaves 
as if there were no laws forbidding such action. 54 Joseph 
Mayo, of Henrico County, owner of nearly a hundred slaves, 
was more desirous that his act be in conformity with the 
laws, and expressed in his will a " most earnest request that 
the executors petition the General Assembly for leave to 

51 MS. Petitions, Hanover County, 1785 ; Frederick County, 1786, 
A 6340. 

62 In 1814 Thomas Jefferson expressed his disappointment that the 
generation who had received "their early impressions after the 
flame of liberty had been kindled in every breast, and had become, 
as it were, the vital spirit of every American" had not gone even 
to the extent of making possible a general emancipation of slaves 
(Jefferson to Edward Coles, in Randall, Life of Jefferson, vol. iii, 
p. 644). 

53 See quotation of the original will in R. A. Brock s prefatory note 
to " The Fourth Charter of the Royal African Company," in Vir 
ginia Historical Collections, vol. vi, p. 18. In 1771 Jonathan 
Pleasants, a large slave-owner, attempted to provide that his slaves 
be set free by a will beginning thus : " and first believing that all 
mankind have an undoubted right to freedom and commiserating the 
situation of my negroes" (2 Call, 270). William Binford, of Hen 
rico County, set free twelve youthful slaves in 1782 because he was 
" fully persuaded that freedom is the nat l right of all mankind " 
(MS. Deeds of Henrico County, no. I, p. 421). In 1790 Colonel 
William Grason manumitted all of his slaves "born after the Dec 
laration of Independence" ("History of the Virginia Federal Con 
vention, of 1788," in Virginia Historical Collections, vol. ix, p. 211). 
For similar expressions see MS. Deeds of Henrico County, no. 3, p. 
378; no. 7, P- 131- 

M Hening, vol. xii, p. 613. 


set free all" his slaves. 55 Some masters made their wills 
in anticipation of an act permitting manumission. A notable 
instance was the devise made in 1777 by John Pleasants, a 
Quaker, whose will, when later held valid by the supreme 
court of appeals, set free several hundred slaves. 50 The 
contingency upon which this devise of freedom in futuro 
was based was that "the laws of the land . . . admit them 
to be set free without their being transported out of the 

A still more novel instance of anticipating action by the 
legislature was the devise by Cloister Hunnicutt, of Sussex 
County, of six slaves to the Monthly Meeting of the Society 
of Friends, to be manumitted by such members as the meet 
ing should appoint. In passing upon the validity of this 
will, recorded two years prior to the act of 1782 permitting 
manumission, the supreme court said : " He knew the exist 
ing laws forbade it and that his society had been anxiously 
endeavoring to procure an enabling statute for that purpose 
from the legislature; which was generally believed would 
shortly be obtained." Counsel, in defending the legality of 
the will, observed that the testator must have known " that 
a sentiment existed in the country very favorable to the pas 
sage of such a law." 57 

In the forefront of the movement which culminated in 
the repeal of restrictions upon the right of private manu 
mission were two religious sects the Quakers and the 
Methodists. Many Quakers in Virginia had been owners 
of slaves up to the period of the Revolutionary War, but 
they were among the first to recognize and admit fully the 
humanity of the negro and the injustice of depriving him 
of his right to freedom. Committees of their meetings were 
appointed "to labor with such Friends as still hold their 
negroes in bondage, to convince them, if possible, of the 

55 Hening, vol. xii, p. 612; MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1886, 
A 8990. By special acts of legislation in 1787 both the above-men 
tioned wills were made effective (Journal of the House of Dele 
gates, 1786, p. 23. Cited as House Journal). 

"2 Call, 270; Brock, p. 17. 

"Charles et al. v. Hunnicutt, 5 Call, 311, 312. 


evil of that practice and inconsistency with our Christian 
profession." 58 The few members who clung to their slaves 
did so at the price of being disowned by their society. 59 
The growing body of Methodists likewise showed them 
selves the friends of the negro, and many of them, like the 
Quakers, refused to own or sell slaves. In the Methodist 
annual conference held at Baltimore in 1780 this question 
was put to the conference : " Does this Conference acknowl 
edge that slavery is contrary to the laws of God, man, and 
nature, and hurtful to society; contrary to the dictates of 
conscience and pure religion, and doing that which we would 
not others should do to us and ours? Do we pass our dis 
approbation on all our friends who keep slaves, and advise 
their freedom?" The answer was, " Yes." 60 Philip Gatch, 
a slave-owning Methodist of Powhatan County, was one 
among many of these people who acted according to the 
advice of their society in a very short time after it was 
given. 61 The Methodists as well as the Friends exerted an 
influence upon legislation by memorials to the legislature 
reiterating their opposition to slavery. 62 

Probably these two societies, the Friends and the Metho 
dists, deserve to rank first in the work of advancing the 
cause of manumission from genuine altruistic motives. 
They sought to make manumission lawful because they were 
willing to take the negro within the scope of the doctrine 
of equal rights and natural freedom. But the Baptists 
and Presbyterians were then striving to gain for the whites 
freedom of religion and freedom of conscience; hence 
they too were consistent advocates of the measure by 

68 MS. Minutes of Fairfax Monthly Meeting, 1776-1802; MS. 
Minutes of Warrenton and Fairfax Quarterly Meeting, 1776-1787, 
passim; S. B. Weeks, Southern Quakers and Slavery, p. 211 et seq. 

09 MS. Minutes of Hopewell Monthly Meeting, 1777-1791, p. 184; 
MS. Minutes of Fairfax Monthly Meeting, 1777-1791, pp. 42, 65. 

60 W. W. Bennett, Memorials of Methodism in Virginia, p. 131. 

* Ibid. 

62 Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, vol. iii, p. 124 ; 
cited as Madison s Writings. See Weeks on the prominence of 
Quakers and Methodists among the eighty members of the Vir 
ginia Abolition Society in 1791 (Southern Quakers and Slavery, 
P- 213). 


which restraints were to be removed from the will and con 
science of a slave-owner who felt moved to set free his 
slave for conscience sake. Furthermore, without regard to 
church affiliations, there was a class of young men who, ac 
cording to a distinguished French traveller, "were almost 
all educated in principles of sound philosophy and regarded 
nothing but justice and humanity." 63 To this younger set 
of men, who represented the liberal ideas of the English and 
French thought of that time, and prominent among whom 
was Thomas Jefferson, is due much of the credit for the 
support in the legislature of the proposition which was en 
acted into law in May, 1782, bearing the title, "An act to 
authorize the manumission of slaves." 64 

To a certain class of those persons who demanded a re 
vision of the laws respecting the negroes the law of 1782 
was only a partial victory. The object sought by persons 
of that class was the freedom of the negro and not the 
greater freedom of the white master ; hence they were now* 
as ready to support a plan of general emancipation as they 
had been to promote the progress of manumission. In 1785 
a petition was presented to the legislature asserting it to 
be the firm conviction of the petitioners that slavery is con 
trary to the principles of the Christian religion and an ex 
press violation of the principles upon which our government 
was founded. 65 Several months later seventeen citizens of 
Frederick County petitioned for the gradual emancipation 

63 F. J. Chastellux, Travels in North America in the years 1780-82, 
vol. ii, pp. 196, 197. 

M " Be it enacted That it shall hereafter be lawful for any person 
by his or her last will and testament, or by any other instrument in 
writing, under his or her hand and seal attested and proved in the 
county court by two witnesses, or acknowledged by the party in 
the court of the county where he or she resides, to emancipate and 
set free his or her slaves, or any of them, who shall thereupon . . . 
enjoy as full freedom as if they had been particularly named and 
freed by this act" (Hening, vol. xi, pp. 39, 40). 

65 House Journal, November 8, 1785, p. 27. This petition urged 
not only emancipation, but also " the strengthening of our govern 
ment by attaching to its support by ties of interest and gratitude " 
the freedmen. Apparently, enfranchisement of the freedmen was v < 
within its scope. 


of slaves, reasoning that " liberty is the birthright of man 
kind, the right of every rational creature." 66 

These propositions met with very strong protest from 
those who had opposed the passage of the manumission act 
and who were already preparing to make a fight for its re 
peal. Counter petitions and remonstrances were received 
by the Assembly as soon as were the petitions. 67 In addi 
tion to remonstrating against proposed plans of emancipa 
tion, the petitioners urged the repeal of the law authorizing 
manumission. 68 

In the issue thus joined the balance of power was held 
by the class of persons who had supported the passage of 
the law of 1782 with the view to removing restraints upon 
the will of the master for the sake of the master s freedom. 
Neither the proposition for emancipation nor the project 
for the repeal of the law authorizing manumission could 
command their support. Persons of this class were as 
much opposed to hampering the property rights of the mas 
ter by denying to him the right to dispose of slaves at will 
as they were to compelling him to relinquish his title to 
slaves. The emancipation schemes and the projects to pro 
hibit again the manumission of slaves failed of enactment. 
Hence, on compromise ground between two extreme views, 
the act authorizing manumission remained on the statute 
book, and represented the policy to which the State re 
mained for many years firmly committed. 69 

66 MS. Petitions, Frederick County, 1786, A 6340. Madison, in 
a letter to Jefferson of January 22, 1786, says that " several petitions 
(from Methodists, chiefly) appeared in favor of a gradual abolition 
of slavery" (Madison s Writings, vol. i, p. 217). 

67 MS. Petitions, Brunswick County, 1785, A 2901 ; House Journal, 
1785, p. 30; Madison to Washington, November n, 1785, in Madi 
son s Writings, vol. i, p. 200. 

68 Petitions of this kind were received by the legislature from the 
counties of Brunswick, Amelia, Mecklenburg, Halifax, and Pittsyl- 
vania (House Journal, 1785, p. 91; MS. Petitions, A 2901). A 
petition from Hanover County, signed by one hundred and forty- 
four citizens, and one from Henrico, signed by one hundred and 
twenty citizens, praying for the repeal of the act of 1/82, were sent 
to the legislature in 1784 (MS. Petitions, Hanover County, A 8124; 
Henrico County, A 8971). 

60 House Journal, 1785, p. 91. The vote against repeal was 53 to 


The removal in 1782 of restraints upon manumission was 
like the sudden destruction of a dam before the increasing 
impetus of a swollen stream. The free negro population in 
the State at that time probably less than 3000, but the 
product of a century and a quarter s growth was more than 
doubled in the space of two years. Instances of manumis 
sion, often of large numbers of slaves, became frequent. 70 
In eight years after the act became effective the number of 
free colored persons rose from less than 3000 to I2,866. 71 
By 1800 the number had increased to 20,000; and according 
to the census of 1810 it was over 30,000. 

The principles of natural rights and the consent of the 
governed had only a year before the passage of the enabling 
act received a triumph in the victory of the American and 
French armies at Yorktown, and many a slave-master now 
seized the opportunity to follow those principles to their 
logical conclusion by manumitting every slave in his pos 
session, whether one or one hundred. In 1782 William 
Binford and Robert Pleasants, of Henrico County, manu 
mitted respectively twelve and ninety slaves. Most of them 
were of an age to be very valuable, but young and old were 
set free because of a "conviction and persuasion that free 
dom is a natural right." 72 Joseph Hill, of Isle of Wight 
County, gave expression to his views in his will of March 
6, 1783, as follows: "I ... after full and deliberate con 
sideration, and agreeable to our Bill of Rights, am fully per 
suaded that freedom is the natural life of all mankind . . . 

70 Cf . Brock, p. 19. 

71 In 1835 William Jay wrote as follows : " In 1782, Virginia re 
pealed her restraining law and in nine years 10,000 slaves were man 
umitted " (Slavery in America, p. 101). In 1796 St. George Tucker 
called attention to the fact that " there are more free negroes and 
mulattoes in Virginia alone than are to be found in the four New 
England states and Vermont in addition to them. The prog 
ress of emancipation in this state is, therefore, much greater than 
our Eastern brethren may at first suppose. There are only 1087 free 
negroes and mulattoes in the states of New York, New Jersey, and 
Pennsylvania more than in Virginia" (A Dissertation on Slavery, 
p. 72 n.). 

72 MS. Deeds of Henrico County, no. I, p. 42. 


do hereby emancipate and set free all and every of the 
above-named slaves." 73 

Every negro who fought or served as a free man in the 
late war was given in 1783 a legislative pledge of the utmost 
protection of the State in the enjoyment of the freedom he 
had helped to gain ; 74 and a slave who could prove any hon 
orable service rendered by him to the American cause was 
freed by special act and at the expense of the State. 75 Aber 
deen, a slave who had helped forward the cause of liberty 
"by his long and meritorious service in the lead mines," 76 
and " Caesar, who entered very early into the service of his 
country and continued to pilot the armed vessels of the state 
during the late War," 77 were set free at public expense. 
Slave-owning Quakers who were reluctant to manumit their 
slaves were urged by their society to extinguish their titles 
in human chattels. 78 The labor supply being abundant from 
1782 to the end of the century, mercenary masters were 

73 MS. Deeds of Isle of Wight County, no. 15, p. 122. Quoted 
from B. B. Munford, Virginia s Attitude toward Slavery and Se 
cession, p. 105. $ In 1797 Richard Randolph, jr., of Prince Edward 
County, manumitted his slaves "in whom my countrymen by their 
iniquitous laws in contradiction of their own Declaration of Rights 
have vested me with absolute property" (MS. Wills of Prince Ed 
ward County, 1797; H. A. Garland, The Life of John Randolph, of 
Roanoke, vol. i, p. 67). 

7 * Hening, vol. xi, p. 308 ; St. G. Tucker, A Dissertation on Slavery, 
p. 20. Compare below, pp. no, in, in n. 

75 William Boush and Jack Knight, and Saul, " who avoided the 
rocks upon which so many negroes wrecked when the trumpet call 
pronounced his freedom if he would turn upon his master," were 
all set at liberty by the State because of their services in the 
cause of liberty (Hening, vol. xiii, pp. 103, 619). The slave James, 
a spy or secret agent of Marquis Lafayette in his Virginia cam 
paign, received favorable consideration by the Assembly (MS. Peti 
tions, New Kent County, 1786, 64051). 

76 Hening, vol. xi, p. 309 (1783). 
"Ibid., vol. xiii, p. 102 (1789). 

78 In 1788 it was inserted in the Friends Discipline " that none 
amongst us be concerned in importing, buying, selling, holding, or 
overseeing slaves, and that all bear a faithful testimony against the 
practice." In 1785 the following query was put before the dele 
gates to the Upper Quarterly Meeting : " Do any Friends hold slaves 
and do all bear a faithful testimony against the practice?" In 1796 
it was reported at a meeting that there was no longer complaint of 
Friends holding slaves when they could be lawfully liberated 
(Weeks, Southern Quakers and Slavery, pp. 212, 214). 


often easily induced by the slaves themselves, or by a phil 
anthropic person in behalf of the slaves, to grant deeds of 
manumission in consideration of a money payment. This 
period from 1782 to 1806 was the time when manumission 
was most popular in Virginia, and is unique in the history 
of slavery in the State as being the only period when manu 
mission went on at a rapid rate without legal restraint. 

Public opinion, however, was by no means unanimous as 
to the wisdom of manumission or as to the expediency of 
permitting the practice to go on without some legal restric 
tion. Very soon after the act of 1782 took effect, lessons 
learned from experience with a free negro element began 
to cast a tremendous weight in the balances on the side of 
the reactionaries, who lost no opportunity to point out the 
evil results of manumission. 79 Almost a hundred years pre 
viously, manumission was for the first time restricted by 
law, because free negroes were unproductive and because 
they incited slaves to steal and to rebel. 80 Throughout the 
long period which intervened between that experience and 
the close of the Revolutionary War the free negro was 
almost a negligible social factor, and afforded little reminder 
of the real character of a large and growing free negro ele- 
ment in a population constituted as was that of Virginia. 
With the old restraints upon manumission removed, two 
years trial of the freedmen was sufficient to convince many 
persons that " free negroes are agents, factors and carriers 
to the neighboring towns for slaves, of property by them 
stolen from their masters and others." 81 Three years later 
the opponents of manumission declared it to be " a very 

"MS. Petitions, 1784, A 8124; A 8971; A 2901. A petition from 
Accomac County, in June, 1782, signed by forty-five persons, assigned 
four reasons why the slaves of persons who had made their wills 
before 1782 should not be set free: (i) Manumitted slaves had 
helped unmanumitted slaves to join the British; (2) It would 
depreciate the value of slave property and thus lessen revenue; (3) 
Manumission should be preserved solely as a means of rewarding 
slaves for good conduct; (4) Free negroes easily become charges 
upon the public (MS. Petitions, Accomac County, 1785, A 11). 

80 See above, p. 51. 

81 MS. Petitions, Hanover County, 1784, A 8124; Henrico County, 
1784, A 8971. 


great and growing evil," and, failing to get a prohibitive 
measure passed, they proposed the plan of compelling every 
negro to leave the State within twelve months after the date 
of his manumission. 82 The plan was not adopted, but free 
negroes were forbidden by an act of 1793 to come into the 
State. 83 

Much difficulty was soon experienced in discriminating 
between slaves fraudulently passing as free negroes and 
negroes actually free. The right of free negroes to go and 
come and to pass to and fro in a community without hin 
drance or question proved to be a cloak behind which run 
away slaves escaped detection. 84 An attempt to regulate 
the evil by strict registration requirements only augmented 
it ; 85 free negroes treated their registers or " free papers " 
as if they were transferable, and escaping slaves used them 
to conceal their identity. 86 Enterprising slaves even forged 
such papers, or secured them from white persons who made 
a practice of forging freedom certificates and supplying 
slaves with the means of escape. 87 

All these things had been operating to effect a change in 
sentiment adverse to manumission when an attempted insur 
rection of slaves in Richmond, led by a slave named 

82 K. M. Rowland, The Life of George Mason, vol. ii, p. 201. For 
failure to leave they were to be sold at public auction. The propo 
sition followed closely the law passed in 1691. Unlike that law, 
however, it contained no provision for requiring the master to pay 
the expenses of transporting the manumitted slave. 

83 Hening, vol. xiv, p. 239. Any citizen might arrest a violator 
of this law and take him before a justice, who was empowered "to 
remove every such free negro or mulatto . . . into that state or island 
from whence it shall appear he or she last came." 

84 Virginia Gazette and the American Advertizer, July 5, I7&3- 
" Reward : Ran away from the subscriber a mulatto man slave 
named Jack a crafty fellow ... he has a forged pass to pass for a 
free man" (ibid., October 16, 1784). 

85 Hening, vol. xiv, p. 238. 

86 Ibid., vol. xv, p. 78. 

87 Ibid., vol. xiv, p. 365. Any person " aiding or abetting in forgery 
of writings whereby a slave or servant of another may go free" 
was liable to a penalty of two hundred dollars and one year s im 
prisonment. Ishmael Lawrence was indicted, found guilty, and 
fined only ten dollars by a Henrico County court in 1795 for " forg 
ing uttering and distributing freedom papers or Deeds of emancipa 
tion to runaway slaves" (MS. Orders, no. 6, p. 514)- 


Gabriel, set the white people of the State to thinking on the 
dangers from a partial subjection of a servile race. 88 While 
the evidence showed but little direct or criminal connection 
of free negroes with the plot, 89 it revealed the fact that bar- 
bacues, fish- feasts, and "preachings," at which the free 
negro was known to be a prominent figure, had furnished 
the occasion for arranging the plot. This fact and testi 
mony that Methodists, Quakers, and Frenchmen, all of 
whom had been favorable to manumission, were to be 
spared by the insurgents 90 were convincing that the mere 
presence in a community of a manumitted negro was a 
source of danger. 

On December 31, 1800, the year of the Gabriel insurrec 
tion, the legislature, behind closed doors, passed the follow 
ing resolution: "That the Governor be requested to corre 
spond with the president of the United States on the subject 
of purchasing lands without the limits of the United States 
whither persons obnoxious to the laws or dangerous to the 
peace of society may be removed." 91 

The obnoxious and dangerous persons described here 
were not criminals or seditious aliens, as might be supposed, 
but " free negroes and mulattoes including those who may 
hereafter be emancipated/ 92 At the time this resolution 
was passed there were upwards of twenty thousand persons 
in Virginia included within its scope; hence persons who 
viewed the growth of the free negro population with alarm 

88 This attempt to massacre the white inhabitants of Richmond 
was called the Gabriel Insurrection. See The Richmond Recorder, 
April 6, 9, 1803; R. R. Howison, A History of Virginia, vol. ii, pp. 
390, 391- 

"A man named Samuel Bird, a free mulatto of Hanover town 
was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the conspiracy of 
the negroes; he ... was finally discharged for want of evidence, 
it being decided that people of his own color, in slavery, could not 
give testimony against him. His son, a slave, was condemned and 
executed yesterday" (Writings of James Monroe, ed. by Hamilton, 
vol. iii, p. 215). 

90 Richmond Recorder, April 9, 1803. 

91 Documents of the House of Delegates, no. 10, 1847-1848, cited 
as House Documents; A. Alexander, A History of Colonization on 
the Western Coast of Africa, p. 63. 

93 Writings of Monroe, vol. iii, p. 20. 



began to realize that restrictions upon the manumission of 
slaves could not now afford complete relief from the menace 
of the free negro. The resolution of the legislature was the 
starting-point of the colonization movement in Virginia and, 
in fact, in the United States. Governor Monroe, acting 
upon the request made of him by the resolution, promptly 
communicated with President Jefferson, and in a lengthy 
correspondence which followed, opinions were given and 
received of the comparative value of the southwestern fron 
tier, the West Indies, and Africa as a place for a colony of 
these persons who were obnoxious to the laws and the 
peace. 93 

While colonization ideas were being born, new and un 
usually stringent measures for keeping watch over and con 
trolling the actions of free negroes were enacted. They 
were forbidden to move from one county or town to an 
other on penalty of being arrested and imprisoned as va 
grants. 9 * The laws concerning the migration of free negroes 
into the Commonwealth were declared defective and in need 
of revision, and more exacting registration requirements 
were enacted. 95 The laws of evidence were changed so that 
a slave was a good witness in pleas of the Commonwealth 
against a free negro. 96 A strong public guard to be sta 
tioned at Richmond was considered by the Assembly to be 
expedient for the public safety "in the present crisis of 
affairs/ 97 

The prospect of removing the free negroes was, however, 
not yet deemed so promising as to cause persons to lose 
sight of the necessity of reducing the enormous rate of in 
crease in the free negro population by closing the avenue 
of escape from slavery to freedom. In the legislative ses 
sion of 1804-1805 the state of public opinion upon the sub- 

w Writings of Monroe, vol. iii, pp. 201-217, 292; The Writings of 
Thomas Jefferson, ed. by Ford, vol. iv, pp. 410-422; House Docu 
ments, no. 10, 1847-1848. 

M Hening, vol. xv, p. 301 (1801). 

86 Ibid., vol. xv, p. 301. 

86 Ibid., vol. xv, p. 300. 

" Ibid., vol. xv, pp. 295, 296 ; Howison, vol. ii, pp. 388-393 ; House 
Journal, 1800-1809, pp. 47, 48. 



ject of manumission was reflected in a vigorous debate on 
the floor of the House on the merits of a proposition to 
abolish the right of private manumission altogether. 98 The 
speakers who favored a restriction of the privilege seemed 
to recognize the difficult task before them of overcoming a 
strong presumption against legislative interference with anj) 
individual right enjoyed since the close of the Revolution. 
" It is not the natural rights of individuals," they asserted, 
" to dispose of his own property in every case. ... It is a 
moral maxim that no man can appropriate his property to 
any purposes which may injure the interest of others. . . . 
Whoever emancipates a slave may be inflicting the deadliest 
injury upon his neighbor. He may be furnishing some ac 
tive chieftain of a formidable conspiracy." Vivid illustra 
tion of and support for the argument were freely taken from 
the recent insurrections in Santo Domingo as well as from 
those in the State." An additional " power of combining," 
it was said, was placed in the hands of slaves by giving to 
them the " right of locomotion." " What should we say of 
a man who having his mortal foe bound at his feet sets him 
at liberty and plants a stiletto in his hand ? " 

A second ground of attack was occupied by matching 
against the property-rights defense of manumission an argu 
ment for economizing revenue by checking a reckless de 
struction of property in slaves. The members of the House 
were asked to consider the loss to the State in revenue in 
curred by the manumission of twenty thousand slaves since 
1782. A third argument was in refutation of the strongly 
entrenched opinion that the proposed measure would violate 
"the rights of conscience." "What respect is due," asked 
Smyth, of Wythe County, "to the conscience of that man 
who, after having made all the use he could of his slaves 
does not hesitate to deprive his wife and children of their 

98 Richmond Enquirer, January 15, 1805. 

"A speaker in debate before the House read portions of the his 
tory of the insurrection of Santo Domingo (Richmond Enquirer, 
January 15, 1805). 


With equal skill the defenders of the privilege of manu 
mission matched arguments with the opposition. They 
affirmed that the loss in revenue incurred by manumission 
was smaller than would be the loss of a single day occupied 
by the legislature in considering the mass of petitions which 
would pour in upon that body, as they poured in upon the 
legislatures before the act of 1782, should the restrictive 
measure carry. They emphasized also the fact that there 
was " a vast number of people who labor under scruples of 
conscience and think it wrong to keep their fellow creatures 
in slavery. . . . These men consider their religion as the 
law of God; and if we pass this bill we shall place them 
between two contrary and conflicting laws." 

Moreover, the proposed measure, they said, would not 
only be unwise policy, but would also be in violation of the 
constitution. "The first clause says that all men are by 
nature equal and independent. Already we have violated 
this declaration, but the present measure will do so still 
more ; for . . . the last clause declares that conscience ought 
to be free." 

Finally, what better safeguard against insurrection could 
there be than the power in the hands of every slave-master 
to reward with freedom his faithful and loyal slaves ? " What 
reward is more seductive than the acquisition of freedom? 
. . . Suppose a servant knows that some harm is to happen 
to his master, can he have a stronger incitement to inform 
him of it and put him upon his guard than the prospect of 
emancipation?" 100 

When the vote which determined the fate of the bill was 
taken, it stood 77 against and 70 in favor of its becoming 
law. The editor of the Enquirer avowed his disappoint 
ment that the measure, " in spite of the imperious policy 
which dictated its adoption was rejected," and expressed a 
hope " that some future Legislature will have the prudence 
to administer the suitable remedy." 101 

90 Richmond Enquirer, January 15, 1805. 


In the next annual session of the legislature there were 
not lacking those who shared the views of the editor on the 
matter of reopening the question in another effort to admin 
ister a remedy. Fears were expressed by some members 
that free and open discussion was dangerous, but in spite 
of these warnings a bill for taking from masters the right 
to free slaves was introduced and debated with much zest. 102 
The events connected with the Gabriel attempt at insurrec 
tion were again recalled and associated with the idle and 
vicious habits of free negroes. A friend of the bill declared 
that " these blacks who are free obtain a knowledge of facts 
by passing from place to place in society; they can thus 
organize insurrection. ... It may be proven that it is the 
free blacks who instil into the slaves ideas hostile to our 
peace." 103 Principles of policy and considerations of safety 
were no longer to be brushed aside by arguments based 
upon the rights of man. 104 

When the division came, the bill was lost by a vote of 75 
to 73. 105 But the full strength of the party in favor of re 
stricting manumission was not shown in this vote, which 
was a test only upon the question of abolishing the right 
altogether. There was apparent agreement that drastic 
police measures were necessary, and but very little objection 
to placing free negroes under any surveillance and restric 
tion that seemed to be necessary for the safety of society; 
but a majority was held intact against abolishing the right 
of manumission only because it believed that the measure 
infringed the rights of private property and " that the con 
science of a dying man ought not to be deprived of the 
momentary comfort emancipation of his slaves would pro 
duce." 106 The objectionable features could, however, be 
avoided by approaching the question from its other side, 

03 Virginia Argus, January 17, 1806. 

103 Ibid. 

104 A speaker affirmed that he was not less friendly to " the rights 
of man" than others who opposed the bill, but that he advocated it 
from policy (Virginia Argus, January 17, 1806). 

5 House Journal, 1805-1806, pp. 68, 77. 
06 Virginia Argus, January 17, 1806. 


that is, by leaving unrestrained the will of the master and 
restraining the will of the slave with an imposition of such 
conditions upon freedmen as would make liberty undesir 
able. Such a plan had been adopted in 1691, and had been 
proposed in 1787. The device met with the approval of 
this Assembly, and an act was passed by which all slaves 
manumitted after May I, 1806, were required to leave the 
State within twelve months from the time their freedom 
accrued, or, if under age, from the time they reached their 
majority. 107 

In 1784 a vote taken in the House of Delegates showed 
that only one third of the members of that House were then 
in favor of the absolute prohibition of the manumission of 
slaves. By 1806 this minority had made such gains that an 
accession of only two votes would have transformed it into 
a majority. It is a significant fact that when the opponents 
of the policy of permitting private manumissions seemed so 
near to victory, almost all concerted efforts to repeal the law 
of 1782 came to an end. The law of 1806 was the last im 
portant change in the policy of the State respecting the 
slave-owner s right to free a slave. The absence after 1806 
of a strong demand to curb the power of a master to convert 
his slave into a free negro was due chiefly to two causes. 

In the first place, the act of 1806 prescribing banishment 
for any slave thereafter set free was regarded as an indirect 
restriction upon the will of the master ; hence it afforded to 
those who had been urging the repeal of the act of 1782 a 
measure of satisfaction. It promised to bring about the 
results which the opponents of manumission desired without 

07 The act, being a restriction in disguise upon manumission, was 
included as section 10 in an act concerning slaves. It declared that 
" if any slave hereafter emancipated shall remain within this Com 
monwealth more than twelve months after his or her right to free 
dom shall have accrued he or she shall forfeit all such right and 
may be apprehended and sold by the overseers of the poor for any 
county or corporation in which he or she shall be found for the 
benefit of the poor of such county or corporation" (Hening, vol. 
xvi, p. 252). Section 10 was a Senate amendment to the act con 
cerning slaves, and was agreed to by the House by a vote of 94 to 65 
(House Journal, 1805-1806, p. 77). 


a direct interference with jealously guarded property rights 
and without hindrance to freedom of conscience. 108 

In the second place, the act of 1806 represented a new 
idea that of removing free negroes from the State. As 
the free negro population increased, a prohibition upon 
manumission was seen to be of diminishing importance as 
a means of coping with the problem. From 1782 to 1806 
strenuous efforts were made to limit the power of masters 
to recruit the free negro population from the slave class. 
After 1806 the strength of the opposition to the growth of 
the free colored class was directed mainly to removing or 
colonizing that class of the population. The question of 
colonization, as we have seen, assumed an aspect of im 
portance as a consequence of a resolution of the state leg 
islature in 1800. The act of 1806 was the first actual law 
of a long succession of laws enacted with a view to realizing 
the ideas set forth in the House resolutions of the first 
years of the century. 

A fundamental defect in the law of 1806 was its failure 
to provide any definite place to which the freed slaves might 
go. As an immediate consequence of spasmodic attempts 
to enforce the law and of fears on the part of manumitted 
slaves that the law would be enforced against them, a notice 
able egress of negroes took place from Virginia to the 
Northern States and to the States bordering on Virginia on 
all sides. Citizens of Maryland soon began to make loud 
complaint to their legislature. " Virginia," they said, " has 
passed a law [expelling certain free negroes] and many of 
her beggarly blacks have been vomited upon us." 109 Within 

108 " That Government would be justly chargeable with the ex 
treme of despotism that should attempt, without necessity, to in 
terfere with the kind and generous feelings of the human heart," 
asserted a committee of the House of Delegates in its report in 
1829 favorable to the expediency of continuing the policy of remov 
ing free negroes and of permitting masters to manumit slaves 
(African Repository and Colonial Journal, vol. iii, p. 54- Cited as 
African Repository). 

109 MS. Petitions to House of Delegates, in Maryland Historical 
Society, portfolio 7, no. 28; J. R. Brackett, The Negro in Maryland, 
pp. 176, 177. 


a year after the Virginia act was passed the legislatures of 
three different States Maryland, 110 Kentucky, 111 and Dela 
ware 112 had passed countervailing acts forbidding free ne 
groes to come in from other States to take up permanent 
residence. Other States followed the lead of the three 
already named, and passed laws excluding free negroes or 
imposing upon their admission such rigid requirements as 
to render their coming impracticable. Ohio, 113 Indiana, 114 
Illinois, 115 Missouri, 116 North Carolina, 117 and Tennessee 118 
had passed some such law within twenty-five years after the 
Virginia act of 1806. The people of Mercer County, Ohio, 
refused to allow John Randolph s three hundred and eighty- 
five negroes, who left Virginia in compliance with the laws, 
to remain even for three days upon land purchased for them 
in that county, although these negroes could comply with 
Ohio s law requiring of emigrant free negroes bond for 
good behavior. 119 In no State was a cordial welcome held 
out to Virginia s expatriated negroes. A refugee slave was 
far more likely to meet with hospitality in the Northern 
States than was a free negro. 120 

When that portion of the population of Virginia which 
viewed the residence of the free blacks among them as " an 
intolerable burden " 121 saw that the removal laws were being 

110 Laws of Maryland, 1806, ch. 56; 1823, ch. 161 ; Brackett, p. 176. 

111 Acts of Kentucky Legislature, 1807-1808, sec. 3; J. C. Hurd, 
The Law of Freedom and Bondage in the United States, vol. ii, 
pp. 15, 18; MS. Petitions, Cumberland County, 1815, A 4728. 

112 4 Delaware Laws, 108 ; Hurd, vol. ii, p. 77. 

113 Ohio Sessions Laws, ch. 8; Hurd, vol. ii, p. 117. 

114 Hurd, vol. ii, p. 130. 

115 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 135. 
118 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 170. 

117 Revised Code of North Carolina, 107, sec. 54-58, 75-77 ; J. S. 
Bassett, Slavery in the State of North Carolina, in J. H. U. Studies, 
ser. xvii, nos. 7-8. 

118 Hurd, vol. ii, p. 92. See also The Richmond Enquirer, Febru 
ary 19, 1832, speech of Mr. Goode. 

^ The Liberator, August 7, 21, 1846. 

120 "If there is one fact established by steadily accumulating evi 
dence it is that the free negro cannot find a congenial home in the 
United States. He is an exotic among us" (quoted in De Bow s 
Commercial Review, vol. xxvii, p. 731, from Philadelphia North 

121 MS. Petitions, Prince William County, 1838. 


" frustrated by the action of sister states " 122 as well as by 
the inactivity of local officials in enforcing the banishment 
provisions, efforts were made to seek a place beyond the 
United States where free negroes could be colonized. On 
December 14, 1816, a resolution was adopted in the House 
of Delegates which strongly urged the importance of colo 
nization, and requested the governor to " correspond with 
the President of the United States for the purpose of ob 
taining a territory upon the shores of the North Pacific, or 
some other place not within any of the States or territorial 
governments of the United States to serve as an asylum for 
such persons of color as are now free and may desire the 
same and for those who may be hereafter emancipated 
within this Commonwealth." 123 Within a short while after 
the adoption of this resolution there was organized in Wash 
ington the American Colonization Society, and throughout 
the counties and cities of Eastern Virginia auxiliary organi 
zations sprang up. 124 A state colonization society had head 
quarters at Richmond in 1831, and had various branches 
throughout the State. 125 The two most important duties of 
these societies and their agents were to procure, first, funds 
for the transportation of free negroes 126 to Africa, and, sec 
ondly, free negroes who were willing to be transported 
there. 127 

From 1820 to 1860 these societies were very active in 
propagating the colonization ideas. In 1833 tnev procured 
from the legislature an annual appropriation of eighteen 

22 MS. Petitions, Dinwiddie County, 1838, A 5090. 

123 House Journal, 1816-1817, p. 90. 

124 Address of the Rockbridge Colonization Society, in African 
Repository, vol. iii, p. 274; Report of Managers of the Lynchburg 
Auxiliary Colonization Society, in ibid., vol. iii, p. 202; Memorial of 
the Richmond and Manchester Auxiliary Colonization Society, in 
MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1825, A 9358. 

m Petition of the Colonization Society of Virginia, in MS. Peti 
tions, Henrico County, 1831, A 9431. 

128 African Repository, vol. iii, pp. 280, 281. 

" Difficulty has been apprehended in obtaining a sufficient num 
ber of emigrants. . . . Many of the free people are either ignorant 
of the scheme or prejudiced against it. They are suspicious of 
white men " (Address of Rockbridge Colonization Society, in Afri 
can Repository, vol. iii, p. 279). 


I thousand dollars for five years to be used in colonizing free 
negroes in Africa. From this time on for a quarter of a 
century the state legislature was committed to the plan of 
colonization as a solution of the free negro problem; and 
although that plan resulted in repeated failure, it was suffi 
ciently promising to absorb the greater part of the interest 
of nearly all who wished to check the growth of the free 
colored class. 128 Between 1836 and 1856, propositions for 
limiting the power of masters to manumit their slaves were 
pressed forward with some energy, but were uniformly de 
feated. 12& The constitutional convention of 1850 evaded 
the question of limiting manumission by granting to the 
legislature the power to " impose such restrictions and con 
ditions it shall deem proper upon the power of slave-owners 
to emancipate their slaves," a power which the legislature 
had always been understood to have. 130 The law of 1806 
was reenacted at various times after its first enactment, with 
such changes as were deemed necessary to improve its 
effectiveness, and in 1850 it was embodied in the new con 
stitution and remained a part of the constitutional law of 
the State till the overthrow of the slavery regime. 

The adoption in 1806 of a new policy respecting manu- 

128 Acts, 1832-1833, p. 14. Large appropriations ($30,000) were 
made by the legislature in 1850 and 1853 for the purpose of coloniz 
ing the free colored population (ibid., 1840-1850, p. 7; 1852-1853, p. 
58). But so few were the numbers of Virginia negroes actually 
colonized in comparison with the entire free negro population of the 
State that Virginia colonization may be said to have been an abso 
lute failure. During the three years in which the law of 1850 was in 
operation only 419 free blacks and slaves were sent from Virginia to 
Africa, and of the $90,000 available for colonization purposes only 
$5410 was used. Prior to 1854 only 2800 colored persons in all had 
been sent from Virginia to Africa. After 1853 the annual appro 
priation of $30,000 was never consumed upon the transportation of 
emigrants. For the fiscal year ending October I, 1858, only $2100 
was expended by the colonization board and only 42 negroes were 
sent out (Message of Governor Johnson, in House Journal, 1853- 
1854, p. 15; House Documents, 1859-1860, no. 5, p. 407). 

129 House Journal, 1839, p. 247 ; 1842-1843, p. 28 ; 1852-1853, p. 83 ; 
1855-1856, pp. 112, 436; 1857-1858, p. 262; Journals of the Senate 
of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1857-1858, p. 668, cited as Senate 

130 Journal, Acts and Proceedings of the Convention of 1850, p. 
327; Constitution of 1850, sec. 3 on Slaves and Free Negroes. 


mitted slaves should be considered as the point of division 
between two stages in the progress of manumission in Vir 
ginia. The actual operation of the law was, however, only 
one of several causes of the decline which occurred about 
that time in the frequency of manumissions. First among 
the causes which resulted in a decreased disintegration of 
slavery early in the century was the growth of an anti- free- 
negro sentiment which acted as powerfully to determine the 
action of individual slave-owners as it did to determine leg 
islation. Not a few of these persons were becoming con 
verted to the opinion expressed in the editorial columns of 
the Richmond Recorder that "there never was a madder 
method of sinking property, a method more hostile to the 
safety of society than the freak of emancipating negroes." 131 
Even from the point of view of the slave s welfare, honest 
reflection upon the hard conditions economic, social, and 
legal of free negroes, whether they remained in the State 
or attempted to emigrate, caused masters of benevolent in 
tentions to hesitate long before surrendering a slave to his 
own care. The feeling of this class of slave-owners was 
well expressed by Thomas Jefferson in 1814: "Men of this 
color are by their habits, rendered as incapable as children 
of taking care of themselves and are promptly extinguished 
whenever industry is necessary for raising the young. In 
the meantime they are pests in society by their idleness and 
the depredations to which this leads them." 132 

In the second place, among the causes of the decline in 
the frequency of manumissions must be reckoned the re 
straining effect of the law annexing banishment as an 
attendant condition. "This law," wrote the Powhatan 
Colonization Society, "has restrained many masters from 
giving freedom to their slaves and has thereby contributed 

131 Richmond Recorder, November 10, 1802. This issue contains 
a lengthy and animated discussion of the vicious character of the 
free negro and the dangers of manumission. 

tsa Randall, Life of Jefferson, vol. iii, p. 644. Compare also John 
Burk s statement in 1804 that "the first loss to be sustained by an 
emancipation is not the greater bar to this desirable end" (The 
History of Virginia, vol. i, p. 212 n.). 


to check the growth of an evil already too great and formid 
able." 133 Richard Hildreth, writing in 1856, asserts that 
under the act of 1782 manumissions were very numerous, 
"and but for the subsequent re-enactment [in 1806] of re 
strictions upon it, the free colored population of Virginia 
might now exceed the slaves." 134 A petition to the legisla 
ture from the Richmond Colonization Society attributed 
entirely to this law the decline of four thousand in the de 
cennial increase in the free negro population from the first 
to the second decade of the century. 135 

The Virginia slaves felt keenly their dependence upon 
those by whom they were reared and for whom they labored. 
Many of them preferred to continue as slaves in their mas 
ter s household rather than incur the risk of being sent 
homeless into a strange land. Lucinda, a negro woman 
manumitted about 1812 by the last will of Mary Mathews, 
refused to be moved to Tennessee with other negroes set 
free by the same will, deliberately remaining in the State 
long enough to forfeit her freedom and petitioning the leg 
islature to vest the title to her in William H. Hose. 136 Sam, 
a negro petitioner, declared to the legislature in 1808 that 
he preferred slavery to being forced to leave his wife and 
family, all of whom were slaves. 137 There were many slave 
owners who considered the question of manumission solely 
from the standpoint of the welfare of their slaves, and who 
were therefore temporarily or permanently prevented from 
conferring upon them a freedom which would deprive them 
of their only hope of a lawful support. John Randolph of 
Roanoke, writing in his will in 1819 concerning his slaves, 
said, " It has a long time been a matter of deepest regret to 
me that . . . the obstacles thrown in the way by the laws 

133 Memorial to Virginia Legislature, in MS. Petitions, Powhatan 
County, 182(5?), uncatalogued. 

34 The History of the United States, vol. iii, p. 392. 
135 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1825, A 9358. 
138 MS. Petitions, King George County, 1813, 61109. 
137 MS. Petitions, Essex County, 1808, A 5385. 


of the land have prevented my emancipating them in my 
life-time." 138 

Furthermore, many free negroes who owned as slaves in 
a legal sense their wives and children or their brothers, sis 
ters, and other relatives were after 1806 deterred from set 
ting them free when they contemplated the prospect of see 
ing their dearest friends banished from the State by an 
enforcement against them of the limited residence law. For 
example, a colored man named Frank, who resided in Amelia 
County, had purchased his wife and three children, and, 
according to the statement of his white neighbors, had " al 
ways intended that they should be virtually free, although 
the law prohibited him from making them actually so with 
out subjecting them to removal from the state." 139 Bowling 
Clark, a free negro of Campbell County, purchased his wife 
a few years after the act of 1806 went into operation; but 
both were declining in years, and both preferred the existing 
arrangement to one which would have given the wife free 
dom at the cost of parting husband and wife or of sending 
both from their home together. 140 Numerous instances could 
be cited to show that the law annexing banishment as a con 
dition of manumission exerted a powerful effect in restrain 
ing the will of black slave-owners. 141 

The third of the causes which deserve notice here in con 
nection with the general decline in the frequency of manu 
missions in the nineteenth century is a noteworthy change 
in the economic aspects of slaveholding. The invention of 

38 The last will and testament of John Randolph of Roanoke set 
free about three hundred and eighty-five slaves. The document is 
printed in Garland, vol. ii, p. 150. 

139 In 1809 Frank died, and the only means that remained of sav 
ing " Patience, the wife, and Philemon, Elizabeth and Henry, the 
children of the free black man" from sale into slavery was leg 
islative intervention by private act. The legislature intervened in 
this case because the purchase by Frank of his family took place 
before the enactment of the law of 1806. Legislative action was re 
fused in many similar cases of later date (MS. Petitions, Amelia 
County, 1809, A 768; Acts, 1809-1810, p. 54). 

140 MS. Petitions, Campbell County, 1815, A 3412. 

141 See MS. Petitions, Fauquier County, 1837, A 5859; and below, 
pp. 92, 93. The imperfect enforcement of the act of 1806, a subject 
treated elsewhere in this monograph, did not relieve negroes of the 
fear of the consequences following violation of it. 


the cotton gin in 1793 made possible the expansion of the 
cotton industry in the South. The result of this industrial 
expansion created a demand for slaves to work in the cotton 
fields. The abolition of the foreign slave trade in 1808 pro 
duced the final condition for the rapid growth of a domestic 
slave trade which eventually resulted in a rise in prices of 
Virginia slaves. About 1790, "when slave prices reached 
the bottom of a twenty years decline," 142 the maximum fre 
quency of manumissions was attained, with the exception 
of the first few months after the manumission act took 
effect. Conditions in 1794 were such as to lead Washing 
ton to say that he believed that slaves would be " found to 
be a very troublesome species of property ere many years 
pass over our heads." 143 Any slave-owner having a limited 
number of acres for tillage might readily become overstocked 
with slaves and be forced to the alternative of manumitting 
or selling some of them. 144 In various ways household 
slaves made demands upon or appeals to their owners for 
freedom. In competition with these demands was the de 
mand of the slave market. When the competition of the 
market was weak, as it was in the last quarter of the eight 
eenth century, the slave had a better opportunity to pur 
chase, or to induce a friend to purchase, his freedom, or to 
appeal with success to the charity of his owner, than when 
attractive prices were being offered to owners for their sur 
plus property. 145 

141 U. B. Phillips, " The Economic Cost of Slaveholding in the 
Cotton Belt," in Political Science Quarterly, vol. xx, p. 257. 

143 Washington to Alexander Spottswood, November 23, 1794, in 
New York Public Library Bulletin, vol. ii, pp. 14, 15. 

144 Delegates representing slave-owning interests in the constitu 
tional convention of 1829-1830 feared that delegates from western 
Virginia desired to see slavery .taxed out of existence. If slaves 
were to be taxed more heavily, thought Richard Morris, " Either the 
master must run away from the slaves or the slave from the 
master." Here we see a recognition of the relation between the 
freeing of slaves and the paying character of slave property (Pro 
ceedings and Debates of the Convention, p. 116). 

148 In 1792 a negro man living in King William County died, leav 
ing a will which directed that so much of his estate as was necessary 
be used to purchase the freedom of his son, the property of Ben 
jamin Temple. This illustrates a phase of manumission directly 
affected by the market price of slaves (Hening, vol. xiii, p. 619). 


It is important, however, to keep in mind that the change 
in economic conditions was not a sudden one, and that it was 
not the sole cause of the decline in the frequency of manu 
missions. John Fiske overrated the economic phase when he 
wrote, "After the abolition of the slave-trade in 1808 had 
increased the demand for Virginia-bred slaves in the states 
further south the very idea of emancipation faded out of 
memory." 146 This statement is erroneous both as to the 
facts and as to the inference that the cause of the change 
was wholly economic. The personal and human element in 
the relations of the master and his slaves so often overshad 
owed the property relation that the disposition which a 
master would make of his slaves could not be foretold by 
reference to economic laws. 

The change in the economic value of slaveholding ascribed 
by Fiske to the early part of the century was in fact more 
potent in producing the second stage in the decline of manu 
mission, which began about 1830, than it was in ushering in 
the first period of decline in the first decade of the century. 
No great rise in slave prices came about in Virginia before 
1830 as a result of the growth of the cotton industry. 147 As 
a result of the decided improvement in slavery as an eco 
nomic system and of the increasing vehemence of attacks 
made upon slavery by abolitionists, there arose soon after 
the great slavery debate in the Virginia legislature in 1832 
a new school of slavery apologists whose outspoken de 
fenses of slavery as a beneficial economic and political insti 
tution represented a new stage in the development of senti 
ment adverse to manumitting. The man who may be called 
the founder of this school of proslavery writers was Thomas 
R. Dew, professor of history and metaphysics in William 
and Mary College, who reviewed the slavery debate of 1832 
and wrote an elaborate defense of slavery entitled " Essay 
on Slavery." Other writers who followed Dew in defend- 

149 Old Virginia and Her Neighbors, vol. ii, p. 191. 

147 W. H. Collins, The Domestic Slave Trade of the Southern 
States, p. 26 et seq. ; W. Jay, Miscellaneous Writings on Slavery, 
pp. 266, 267. 


ing slavery upon its merits were George Fitzhugh, 148 Alfred 
T. Bledsoe, professor of mathematics in the University of 
Virginia/ 49 Rev. Dr. Thornton Stringfellow, 150 and Edmund 
Ruffin. 151 

The theory advanced by these writers was that the negro 
occupied his true and proper economic and political sphere 
in slavery, and that the correct solution of the race problem 
was not a plan of gradual emancipation, as was urged by a 
large minority in the legislature of 1832, but a reduction and 
continued subjection of the members of the black race to 
slavery. This view differentiates the part of the nineteenth 
century before 1832 from the part which came between 1832 
and 1860, and serves to show by contrast how considerable 
was the freedom sentiment in Virginia up to 1832. The 
increase of the free negro population during the decade of 
1820-1830 was 10,474. From 1830 to 1840 the increase in 
that class of the population was only 2500. Prior to the 
Southampton insurrection and the consequent discussion of 
the slavery question, prevailing opinion regarded slavery as 
an evil system to be removed as soon as a feasible method 
could be devised. It was hoped that by manumission the 
problem of drawing off a certain part of the colored class 
for colonization would be solved, and that this plan would 
finally remove the negroes to Africa. A stronger and more 
general antislavery sentiment existed in Virginia prior to 
1832 than some writers are disposed to admit. The earnest 
ness of the debate and the closeness of the vote on an 
emancipation project in the legislature in 1832 is wrongly 
regarded by Edward Ingle 152 as a sort of wild expression of 
fear created by the Southampton insurrection, and not as 
an expression of normal sentiment. It is true that the in 
surrection furnished the occasion for the debate of 1832, 
but the antislavery sentiments expressed fairly represented 

148 " Sociology for the South," and " What Shall be done with 
the Free Negroes?" 
149 " Liberty and Slavery." 
130 " The Bible Argument." 

151 "African Colonization Unveiled." 

152 Southern Sidelights, pp. 265, 266. 


honest views which had persisted up to that time. Anti- 
slavery sentiments had been uttered in the constitutional 
convention of 1829-1830 by such men as James Monroe. 163 
In 1821 Madison declared that the free negroes were " in 
creasing rapidly from manumissions and from offsprings." 154 
Again in 1826 he wrote to La Fayette that "manumissions 
more than keep pace with the outlets provided and that the 
increase of them is only checked by their [the freedmen] 
remaining in the country. 155 This obstacle removed and all 
others would yield to the emancipating disposition." In 
Madison s opinion, "the tendency was favorable to the cause 
of universal emancipation." 

In contrast with this view expressed by Madison, which 
is representative of an attitude toward the slavery question 
quite extensively held before 1832, we may consider the 
opinion of a pamphlet writer of the decade of the fifties as 
indicative of the change in sentiment since 1832. Speak 
ing of the mistaken philanthropy of the slave-owners of the 
period of the Commonwealth prior to 1832, he declared that 
the soil was then especially favorable to the growth of 
manumission sentiment. " For slavery had come to be gen 
erally considered as an economical and political evil by a 
large portion of the intelligent slaveholders in Virginia. It 
was not until after abolition fanaticism of the Northern 
people had become both active and malignant, and that Pro 
fessor Dew s excellent Essay on Slavery (the first impor 
tant defense of the system off ered in modern days) had been 
published that the revulsion began. At the present time, 
there are few intelligent and well informed persons in all 
Virginia who do not deem negro slavery to be in every 
respect a beneficial institution." 156 

158 Debates of the Convention, p. 172; Richmond Enquirer, Novem 
ber 5, 1829. 

54 Madison s Writings, vol. iii, p. 240. 

IM Madison s Writings, vol. iii, pp. 275, 540. For petitions signed 
by ^ large numbers of citizens pleading, in 1827, in the interest 
of "citizens who may feel disposed to emancipate their slaves," see 
MS. Petitions, Frederick, Jefferson, and Berkeley Counties, 1827, 
A 6495. 

158 "Calx," pp. 4, 5. 


From what has already been said it should appear clear 
that the periods in the history of manumission from 1782 to 
1865 were marked rather by changes in sentiment than by 
changes in laws. The act of 1782 authorizing manumission 
by the will or other instrument of writing remained in full 
force to the close of the Civil War. 157 By way of compar 
ing the three stages in manumission sentiment under the act 
of 1782 it may with tolerable accuracy be stated that the 
chances of manumission of a slave living in Virginia through 
the generation preceding 1800 were about ten in a hundred; 
of one living through the period from 1800 to 1832, about 
four or five in a hundred; and of one living after 1832, 
about two in a hundred. 

On a basis of sentiment or of the frequency with which 
manumissions occurred there may be said to be three stages 
in the progress of manumissions during the period of the 
Commonwealth, but from the standpoint of legal processes 
and regulations of manumission the period from 1782 to 
1865 is but one period. 

The act of 1782 imposed upon slave-owners who manu 
mitted slaves over forty-five years of age the duty of pro 
viding for their maintenance, in order that they might not 
become charges upon the public. 158 In 1792 a revision of 
the act of 1782 was deemed necessary to the proper protec 
tion of creditors. A qualifying clause was appended to the 
provisions of the original act which made any manumitted 
slave liable to be taken by execution to satisfy the debts 
contracted by his former master previous to the date of 
manumission. 159 In several important cases the supreme 

UT It seems an inexcusable error on the part of Henry Wilson that 
he should have asserted in his History of the Rise and Fall of the 
Slave Power that the act of 1782 remained in force for only ten 
years, and that after its provisions were repealed, "that source of 
just and humane individual action being forcibly stopped, gradually 
dried up and ceased to flow" (vol. i, p. 20). See Code (1849), 459 
n., for a statement by the compiler that " the right to emancipate 
has continued ever since [1782] ; and the validity and effect of in 
struments of emancipation have been passed upon in many cases." 

168 See deed executed by Samuel Tinsley, 1792, in MS. Deeds of 
Henrico County, no. 4, p. 212. 

159 Hening, vol. xiv, p. 128. 


court of appeals held that "the right to emancipate slaves 
is subordinate to the obligation to pay debts previously con 
tracted by express will of the statute." 100 In 1805 certain 
negroes set free by a deed of gift from their owner were, in 
pursuance of a decision of the supreme court of appeals, 
taken in execution for the satisfaction of the debts of the 
slave-owner s wife, notwithstanding the fact that the ne 
groes belonged to their owner before he married the wife 
for whose debts the negroes were held. 161 All other forms 
of property, personal or real, had to be applied to the pay 
ment of debts before execution could be made upon liber 
ated slaves; and if the amount of indebtedness remaining 
could be paid by hiring out the liberated negroes of the debtor, 
they were deprived of freedom only as long as was nec 
essary to raise the required amount. No statute of limita 
tions could be appealed to by negroes who had been in peace 
ful possession of their freedom for five, ten, or apparently 
any number of years to stop an execution upon them for 
the debts of their owner contracted before the liberation. 162 
Under the provisions of the act of 1782 and of every later 
revision of that act, manumissions could be made by last 
will and testament or by other instrument of writing prop 
erly attested and proved. Written instruments of manu 
mission other than wills were generally called " deeds of 
manumission " or " deeds of emancipation." Strictly speak 
ing, such instruments were not deeds, because they imported 
no transfer of property from one to another, but they bore 
a close analogy to deeds. Referring to this analogy, a judge 
of the supreme court of appeals in Thrift v. Hannah said: 
"A deed is a writing sealed and delivered. Proof or ac 
knowledgment in court is to an instrument of emancipation 
what delivery is to a deed at common law." 163 In imitation 

160 Dunn v. Amey, I Leigh, 465 (1829); Jincey et al. v. Winfield 
Administrators, 9 Grattan, 708 (1853). 

161 Woodley v. Abby, 5 Call, 336. See also Patty v. Colin, i Hen- 
ing and Munford, 519 (1807). 

162 Woodley v. Abby, 5 Call, 336; Patty v. Colin, i Hening and 
Munford, 519 (1807). 

163 Thrift v. Hannah, 2 Leigh, 330. 


of deeds or indentures conveying property from one to 
another, such instruments of manumission usually stipulated 
a pecuniary consideration. Even when the act of the master 
was purely an act of benevolence, it was the practice to 
stipulate some such nominal consideration as five shillings, 16 * 
one dollar, 165 or five dollars. 166 Deeds of manumission were 
in frequent use between 1782 and 1800 by persons of very 
decided antislavery views, 167 as, for example, the Quakers. 
Though of less frequent occurrence in the deed-books of 
the nineteenth century, deeds of emancipation were used by 
free negroes who purchased and set free their relatives and 
friends, or by masters who agreed with their slaves to set 
them free upon payment of a certain sum of money. 

The most common type of deeds of emancipation is ex 
emplified by the following instrument, taken from the court 
records of Henrico County: 

To all whom these presents may come know ye, that I Peter 
Hawkins a free black man of the City of Richmond having pur 
chased my wife Rose, a slave about twenty-two years of age and 
by her have had a child called Mary now about 18 mo. old, for the 
love I bear toward my wife and child have thought proper to eman 
cipate them and for the further consideration of five shillings to me 
in hand paid ... I emancipate and set free the said Rose and Mary 
. . . and relinquish all my right title and interest and claim whatso 
ever as slaves to the said Rose and Mary. 


From the standpoint of proslavery men of the nineteenth 
century, manumission by last will and testament was the 
method most likely to be abused. It was certainly the 
method which remained in most common use throughout 
the entire period of the Commonwealth. When a slave 
owner recognized that he was approaching the end of life, 

64 MS. Deeds of Henrico County, no. 2, pp. 569, 574; no. 6, p. 274. 

165 Ibid., no. 7, p. 205. 

166 Ibid., no. 7, p. 454. 

167 Betsey Barlow, who from benevolent motives freed her slaves 
by deed in 1789, gave them not only freedom but new names : " I 
set free Jacob and Sarah to whom I give the names Jacob Holland 
and Sarah Marnick" (MS. Deeds of Northampton County, 1785- 
1794, P- 291). Manumitted slaves often assumed the surnames of 
their former owner. 

168 MS. Deeds of Henrico County, 1800, no. 6, p. 78. 


he was likely to give serious consideration to his duty to 
his own slaves, regardless of his views respecting slavery in 
general. There remained to him only one appropriate way 
of acknowledging his debt of gratitude for the long, patient, 
and faithful service of the slaves of his household. Con 
fronted with the alternative of dying ingrate or bequeathing 
to their servants freedom from bondage, many masters 
chose the latter course, and down to the Civil War the wills 
of slave-owners frequently contained such a clause as, " I 
give unto my negro her freedom on account of her faithful 
ness of service." 169 Giles Fitzhugh, a descendant of a long 
line of slave-owners, freed all his slaves by his last will in 
J^SS- 170 A will of manumission sometimes represented a 
tardy effort or last resort to ease a goaded conscience. John 
Randolph of Roanoke wrote in his last will, " I give to my 
slaves their freedom to which my conscience tells me they 
are justly entitled." 171 Edmund Ruffin, lamenting in 1859 
the abuse of testamentary manumissions by slave-owners of 
" sensitive or feeble minds, or morbidly tender consciences 
. . . especially of wealthy old men and old women," saw in 
the motives of such slave-owners a resemblance to the mo 
tives appealed to by priests in the dark ages " when inducing 
rich sinners to smooth and pay their future pass to Heaven. 

168 MS. Wills of Norfolk County, 1836-1868, p. 66. The will of 
J. A. Schwartz, of Nottoway County, affords a striking illustration 
of the way in which the reflections of slave-masters in their last ill 
ness often impelled them to acknowledge their debt of gratitude to 
their slaves while theie was opportunity. With his slaves standing 
around him as he lay upon his death-bed, Schwartz questioned them 
separately before dictating orally what was intended for his will in 
respect to them. 

" Bob, do you wish to be freed? " 

" I am willing to serve you, but I had rather be freed than have 
another master," said Bob. 

" He should be free," answered the master. 

When a similar conversation had taken place between Frank and 
the dying man with a like result, Polly enquired : " What are you 
going to do for poor me?" "Polly and her children," said he, 
"should be free" (3 Leigh, 142). 

170 A. Crozier, Virginia County Records, vol. vii, p. no. 

171 Garland, vol. ii, p. 150. This last act of Randolph, liberating 
about three hundred and eighty-five slaves, was referred to by oppo 
nents of testamentary manumission as " the shocking example of 
John Randolph" (Ingle, p. 266). 


Such emancipations have been made in great amount and in 
many cases, and not only by the unquestionably benevolent 
and pious . . . but also by persons whose lives and actions, 
both as men and as masters, had indicated anything but piety, 
benevolence, or even a just and good treatment of their 
slaves/ 172 

The last will and testament was naturally the legal instru 
ment selected by a slave-owner of moderate antislavery 
views who wished to retain the services of his negroes during 
his life, but desired at the same time to guarantee them, by 
providing for their freedom at his death, against being sold 
with his estate or separated from their homes and each 
other. The testamentary method served equally well the 
master who wished to " lend " his slaves to his heirs for a 
fixed period during the lifetime of the heirs or until the 
slaves should arrive at a certain age. 173 " Manumission in 
future " was the term applied to the act of a master whose 
will provided for the freedom of his slaves at a specified 
time after his death. 

Slave-owners making wills of manumission in future 
often attempted to affix conditions to the possession of free 
dom by their slaves. A condition precedent to the manu 
mission was held by the courts to be valid, that is to say, a 
master by his will could make the freedom of a slave depend 
upon some act or condition of the slave or upon some event, 
if such act, condition, or event was to be determined before 
the slave s freedom began. A condition subsequent was 
invalid. If a master manumitted his slave upon condition 
that the slave serve him for hire or otherwise after acquir 
ing freedom or that the negro s children be slaves, the manu- 

172 E. Ruffin, African Colonization Unveiled, p. 9. 

173 James Johnson, of Louisa County, made his will in 1785, be 
queathing to his wife all his negroes during her lifetime. After her 
death the negroes were to be set free upon attaining the age of 
twenty-one years (10 Leigh, 277). John E. Taylor in his last will 
said : " I lend my slaves Margaret, Bridget, Ben, George, John and 
Sandy to my wife Keziah and my daughter Margaret during their 
natural lives, but in the event of the death of my said wife and 
daughter, I do hereby emancipate them and their issue forever" 
(MS. Wills of Norfolk County, 1836-1868, p. 25). 


mission was valid, but the conditions stipulated were of no 
effect or force. 174 Any effort to control or direct the con 
duct of a negro after manumission or to put him in a status 
intermediate between slavery and freedom was futile. 175 
Some wills conditioned the freedom of slaves upon the 
choice or election of the slaves when they arrived at certain 
ages or when certain conditions were fulfilled. Until 1858 
such wills were treated by the courts as valid. 176 In the 
case of Baily et al. v. Poindexter the supreme court of ap 
peals, contrary to the sentiment of the legal profession, ruled 
that slaves had no legal capacity even to choose to be free, 
and that allowing them such choice did not manumit them 
or provide for their manumission. 177 

m Minor, vol. i, p. 167. John Fitzgerald of Petersburg bequeathed 
freedom to a female slave with the reservation that her children 
should be slaves. When the instrument came for construction by 
appeal to the supreme court in 1827, it was held that the children 
of the woman set free were free and in no way under the control 
of their mother s former owner (Fulton v. Shaw, 4 Randall, 597). 
It was different in the case of children born of a slave-woman at 
any time before she had a right, according to the provisions of 
the will, to her freedom. Such children were slaves (Maria et al. 
v. Surbough, 2 Randall, 228). 

175 A will recorded in 1847, reading " I bequeath my negro girl 
Eliza to daughter Jimmey after the decease of my wife, not as a 
bond slave, but to be under her care and tuition" was held to be 
void of effect even to manumit the slave girl (2 Grattan, 227). 

176 Pleasants v. Pleasants, 2 Call, 319; Elder v Elder s Executor, 
4 Leigh, 252 ; Dawson v. Dawson s Executor, 10 Leigh, 602. 

177 14 Grattan, 132. See also Williamson v. Coalter s Executors, 
14 Grattan, 394. Minor, vol. i, p. 160. 


The legal status of free individuals is involved in the 
usual two-fold relation of persons to the state, that of 
receiver of protection and security from the government, 
and that of active participant in its affairs. Considering 
the status of the free negro in this double relation, the ques 
tion which first demands an answer is, What protection was 
afforded him in rights of property and in the enjoyment of 
life and liberty? 

The common-law right to own and to alienate property 
was at an early date recognized as belonging to free negroes, 
and it suffered fewer limitations in their possession than any 
other of the rights generally regarded as fundamental to a 
free status. In the " order-book " of the county court of 
Accomac for 1632-1640 is an order "that Francis the negare 
shall have his chist wch he clameth now being in the house 
of John Foster in case there be noe lawful reason shown to 
the contrary betwine this and the next courte alledged." 1 
Contracts involving the recognition of full rights of free 
negroes to personal property were recorded in the county 
courts as early as 1645. 2 Among the early Virginia land 
patents are a number representing grants to negroes of from 
fifty to five hundred acres to be held in fee simple. The 
first of such grants made to a negro of which we have any 
record was one of two hundred and fifty acres to Anthony 
Johnson of Northampton County in 1651 as "head-rights" 
on the importation of five persons into the colony. 3 Other 
examples in this and other counties could be cited. 4 Among 

1 Transcribed copy in the Virginia State Library, p. 152. 
8 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1645-1651, pp. 83, 
131; above, pp. 27, 28 n. 

3 MS. Land Patents of Virginia, 1643-1651, p. 326. 
4 See above, p. 38. 



the deeds of York County for the year 1664 is one convey 
ing a tract of land 5 from a white man to a negro. The 
county court of the same county held in 1660 that a free 
negro was capable of receiving property by bequest. 6 

The right of free negroes to property, personal and real, 
thus amply recognized in the seventeenth century, was pre 
served by the courts throughout the entire period under re 
view. In the case of Parks v. Hewlett, 7 decided in 1838, 
the supreme court of appeals says: "He [the free negro] is 
at once entitled to acquire and enjoy property. His person 
is under the protection of the laws, and he has a right to 
sue for injuries done to person or to property. He may 
even acquire lands and hold slaves and will transmit them 
by inheritance to his children." In 1858, when the laws no 
longer allowed free negroes to acquire slaves except by de 
scent, the courts still upheld the property rights of free 
negroes by holding that when a bequest of slaves was made 
to persons in trust for free negroes, the slaves must be sold 
or exchanged for a kind of property which free negroes 
could lawfully possess, and that the proceeds of the sale 
must be distributed among the free negroes according to the 
provisions of the will. 8 

Free negroes owning property transferred it by deed or 
transmitted it by will just as did white persons. 9 Courts of 
record and probate were open to them for recording legal 
evidences of sale or transfer of property, 10 and upon the 

5 MS. Court Records of York County, 1664-1672, p. 327, in Vir 
ginia State Library. 

" Itt is ordered yt John Negro servant to Thomas Whitehead 
Dec d be and is hereby declared Free and that he have his cattle 
& other things belonging to him delivered (to him) according to ye 
Dec d Will & Costs" (MS. Court Records of York County, 1657- 
1662, pp. 211, 217, in Virginia State Library). 

7 9 Leigh, 511. 

8 14 Grattan, 251. 

9 Hening, vol. xiii, p. 619. 

10 In 1829 William Yates, a free negro, died leaving a will by 
which he gave his " estate real and personal," after payment of his 
debts, to Henry Edloe and Robert McCandlish in trust for his wife 
Maria, who was his slave, to be paid over to her as soon as she 
could be freed and be allowed to remain in the State. The will was 
admitted to probate, and an administrator was appointed to carry 
out its provisions (3 Grattan, 330). 


courts devolved the duty of seeing that estates of intestates 
were lawfully administered for the benefit of the rightful 
heirs. In the case of Hepburn v. Dundas, 11 by the authority 
of the highest court of the State the rights of collateral heirs 
to the estate of a free negro who died intestate and without 
children were fully asserted. The agency of the courts, 
either of common law or equity, was resorted to with no 
unusual difficulties by free negroes in the enforcement of 
bequests of property to them. 12 

The inviolability of the property rights of free negroes 
was an effective argument against the frequent proposals 
to remove the entire free negro population from the State. 
In the legislature of 1832 General Brodnax affirmed that the 
free negroes, in the event of deportation, could easily dis 
pose of their small holdings. But Marshall, who opposed 
forcible deportation, declared that there are those "who have 
property which they must dispose of before leaving the 
country. Will you force them to bring their property into 
market all at once to be sacrificed by one precipitate sale ? " 1S 
The argument prevailed against those who favored the 
measure, and the bill was lost. 

In order that certain individuals might have time to dis 
pose of property left them by their deceased masters, nu 
merous private acts were passed by the legislature granting 
them permission to remain in the State contrary to the law 
of i8o6. 14 In 1842 a House of Delegates bill to prohibit 
free negroes from acquiring real estate met with but slight 
consideration. 15 

The most remarkable property right possessed by free ne 
groes was the right to acquire, own, and alienate slaves. 
Indeed, for more than twenty years from the time when 
free negroes first appear in the courts there was no legal 

11 13 Grattan, 219. 

12 Dunlap v. Harrison, 14 Grattan, 251. 

"Richmond Enquirer, February 14, 1832. 

"Acts, 1821-1822, p. 85; 1828-1829, p. 157; 1829-1830, p. 134; 
1830-1831, p. 306; 1832-1833, pp. 198, 199. The law of 1806 here 
referred to required slaves manumitted after May I, 1806, to leave 
the State within twelve months. See above, p. 45, 45 n. 

15 House Journals, 1841-1842, pp. 66, 114, 162. 


restriction upon their right to own indentured white ser 
vants. Such a reversal of the usual order may have been 
in a few cases actually attempted, for in 1670 a law was 
enacted which declared that " noe negro or Indian though 
baptized and enjoyned their own ffreedome shall be capable 
of any purchase of Christians, but yet not debarred from 
buying any of their owne nation." 18 There is on record in 
the Northampton County court-house a clear case of the 
ownership by a free negro of a negro servant as early as 

i655- 17 

Not before 1832 were free negroes forbidden to own ne 
gro slaves. That this right was quite commonly exercised, 
notably in the nineteenth century, is a fact well supported 
by evidence. It was not unusual among the free colored 
people for one member of the family to hold one or more 
of the other members in legal bondage. The following in 
denture of 1795 illustrates this form of slavery: 

Know all men of these presents that I, James Radford of the 
county of Henrico for and in consideration of the sum of thirty- 
three pounds current money of Virginia to me in hand paid by 
George Radford (a black freeman) of the city of Richmond . . . 
hath bargained and sold unto George Radford one negro woman 
aggy, To have and to hold the said negro slave aggy unto the said 
George Radford his heirs and assigns forever. 


Equally instructive is the following " Deed of sale of 
slaves to a freeman " of the same date : 

Know all men of these presence that I David A. Jones of Amelia 
County of the one part have for and in consideration of the sum 
of five hundred dollars granted unto Frank Gromes a black man 
of the other part a negro woman named Patience and two children 
by name Phil & Betsy to have and to hold & to hold the above 

19 Hening, vol. ii, p. 280. The act of 1748 concerning servants and 
slaves declared "that no negroe, mulatto, or Indian although a 
Christian or any Jew, Moor, Mohametan or other infidel shall at any 
time purchase any Christian servants nor any other except their 
own complexion, or such as by this act are declared slaves: and 
if any of the persons aforesaid shall nevertheless presume to pur 
chase a Christian white servant, such servant shall immediately be 
come free, and be held deemed and taken" (ibid., vol. v, p. 550). 

1T MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, p. 226; 
above, pp. 32, 33. 

18 MS. Deeds of Henrico County, no. 5, p. 585. 


named negroes to the only proper use, behalf and benefit of him 
and his heirs forever. 

DAVID JONES (Seal) 19 

Free negro men often thus purchased their slave wives, 
and, fearful of residence prohibitions upon manumitted ne 
groes, held their wives and children as their bond slaves. 20 
Free negro women sometimes purchased their slave hus 
bands to subject them to a more agreeable bondage, them 
selves becoming in an unusual sense their mistresses and 
owners. 21 Daughters were sometimes the property of their 
mothers, as in the case of Janette Wood, of Richmond, who 
in the year 1795 was emancipated by her mother " for and 
in consideration of natural love." 22 John Sabb of Rich 
mond in the year 1801 purchased his aged father-in-law, 
Julius, and manumitted him for the nominal sum of five 
shillings. 23 

Prior to 1806 the purchase of one member of a family 
by another was usually soon followed by a deed of manu 
mission, but after an act 24 of that year had made illegal the 
continued residence of negroes manumitted after May I, 
1806, the relation of master and slave within free negro 

19 MS. Petitions, Amelia County, A 768. 

20 A free negro of Prince William County, Daniel Webster by 
name, being sixty years of age and expecting soon to die, petitioned 
the legislature to permit his wife and children to remain in Virginia 
contrary to the law of 1806, which required slaves manumitted there 
after to leave the State within twelve months. During his life he 
had avoided the evil consequences of this law to the members of his 
family by continuing to own them as his slaves; but at his death 
the danger of their being sold by an administrator was more threat 
ening than the danger of removal from the State, and he wished 
to manumit them (MS. Petitions, Prince William County, 1812). 

21 In 1828 Phil Cooper and his wife, free people of color, petitioned 
the legislature for a law permitting the husband to reside in Vir 
ginia. His wife owned him as her slave, but wished to manumit 
him provided that he might live in the State (MS. Petitions, Glou 
cester County, A 6987). See also Lower Norfolk County Virginia 
Antiquary, vol. iv, p. 177, for statement concerning Betsy Fuller, a 
free negro huckstress of Norfolk, who owned her husband. Upon 
the approach and outbreak of the Civil War the slave husband was 
loud in the expression of southern views, and evidently was indiffer 
ent as to his emancipation. 

22 MS. Deeds of Henrico County, no. 4, p. 692. 
29 Ibid., no. 6, p. 274. 

^Hening, vol. xvi, p. 252. 


families became quite common. A petition of a slave wo 
man, Ermana, to the legislature of 1839 stated that her 
husband had been a free man of color, that he had died 
intestate, and that she, her children, and her property had 
escheated to the literary fund. She prayed that the right of 
the fund to her and to her property be relinquished. 25 Sally 
Dabney, a slave of her husband, was bequeathed property 
by his will as if she had been free. The testator died 
without heirs. The wife, being a slave, was not competent 
to receive the bequest; hence the property escheated to the 
literary fund. The question arose as to whether the wife 
also should not be sold for the benefit of the fund, and an 
act of the legislature was passed to release the claims of the 
State to her. 26 ,^J*. V 

In the exercise of their legal right to own slaves black 
masters did not always confine themselves to the purchase 
of their kindred for beneficent purposes. Some negroes 
purchased and held slaves with the same considerations of 
profit in view as governed the actions of white owners of 
slaves. An example in the seventeenth century is that of 
John Casor, a negro, who was by order of a county court re 
manded to the service of Anthony Johnson, a negro free 
holder. 27 Judith Angus, a well-to-do free negress of Peters 
burg, owned two slave girls as her personal servants. At 
her death she left a will, dated 1832, by which she disposed 
in regard to these two girls as follows : " My servants Jimmy 
and Docy shall work until they obtain money enough to 
enable them to leave the state and thereby secure their free 
dom according to the laws of Virginia. In the event of 
their remaining here, they shall belong to my son Moses." 28 
Against a free negro who held another negro in slavery 
could be used only such legal remedies as could be used 

23 It is probable that all the relatives of the deceased man were 
slaves; hence his property escheated to the State (House Journal, 
1839, p. 21). 

28 Acts, 1834-1835, p. 242. 

27 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, p. 226; 
above, pp. 32, 33. 

28 MS. Petitions, Dinwiddie County, 1833, A 5123. 


against a white master. Mary Quickley, a free black wo 
man of Richmond, held as her slave a woman named Sarah. 
Suit was granted in the hustings court to Sarah against her 
black mistress only after appointed counsel had inquired 
into the claims of Sarah based upon her own free status. 
Suit was granted at the same time to Sarah s children, who 
were held by white persons. 29 

Complete as were the free negro s rights in property law 
fully possessed, he was nevertheless limited in a few re 
spects as to the kinds of property he could acquire. The 
limitations imposed were police regulations, and were ap 
parently not discriminations against the free negro as such. 
In the ownership of slaves, dogs, firelocks, poisonous drugs, 
and intoxicants, free negroes were subject to limitations 
which did not apply to white persons. 

As early as 1670 free negroes were forbidden to own 
white servants. 30 By an act of 1832 they were declared in 
capable of purchasing or otherwise acquiring permanent 
ownership, except by descent, of any slaves other than hus 
band, wife, and children; contracts for any such purchase 
were declared void. 31 By the Code of 1849 the limitation 
was the same, except that parents were included among the 
persons whom free negroes could acquire. 32 An amend 
ment of this section, made March 31, 1858, changed the law 
to read : " No free negro shall be capable of acquiring, ex 
cept by descent, any slave." 33 There is evidence, however, 

29 " On a petition of Sarah alledging herself illegally detained in 
slavery by Mary Quickley a free black woman of this city . . . [and 
on a similar petition of Sarah s children] for leave to sue their 
owners for freedom in forma pauperis, Ordered that James Rind 
Gent, be requested to certify his opinion to this court respecting the 
probable claims of the petitioners . . . which he having done, It is 
further ordered that they be allowed to sue for their freedom" 
(Orders of Hustings Court of Richmond, vol. 5> P- 4 1 )- 

30 Hening, vol ii, p. 280. 

31 Acts, 1831-1832, p. 20. The vote by which this bill was passed in 
the Senate was 15 to 14 (Senate Journal, 1832, p. 176). 

32 Code (1849), P. 458. 

33 Acts, 1857-1858; Code (1860), p. 510. "The object of this law 
is probably to keep slaves as far as possible under the control of 
white men only, and prevent free negroes from holding persons of 
their own race and color in personal subjection to themselves. 


that these laws prohibiting the purchase and sale of slaves 
by free negroes were not enforced, and that free negroes 
continued after 1832 to go into the market to purchase 
slaves for profit. Had it not been so, there would have been 
no occasion for the repeated propositions made and the laws 
passed after 1832 to prevent the practice. Moreover, there 
are persons living who affirm from observation that down 
to the Civil War some free negroes owned slaves merely 
in order to profit by them. 34 

Another limitation upon the right of free negroes to own 
property was that in respect to firearms or other weapons, 
with which they might themselves do injury, or, by placing 
them in the hands of slaves, menace the safety of society. 
An act of 1680 declared that "no negro or other slave" 
could own or carry a " club, staffe, gunn or any other weapon 
of defense or offense." 35 In the revision of the laws in 
1705 the word "negro" was omitted, so that slaves only 
were forbidden to keep arms. 36 In 1723 free negroes, mu- 
lattoes, and Indians were forbidden to "keep or carry any 
gun, powder or shot or any club or other weapon what 
soever offensive or defensive." Free negro housekeepers 
and those enrolled in the militia were, however, excepted. 

Perhaps also it is intended to evince the distinctive superiority of 
the white race" (Opinion of Judge Lee in Dunlop v. Harrison s 
Executors, 14 Grattan, 260). 

** Reuben West, a free negro barber who lived in Richmond during 
the last three decades before the Civil War and paid taxes on real 
property valued at $4420 (City Tax Books, 1856, 1859), is said 
by William Mundin, a mulatto barber now living in Richmond, 
who was born free in 1837, to have purchased a slave house servant. 
According to the statement of Mundin, who was at that time serv 
ing an apprenticeship to Reuben West, this woman slave showed 
toward her black master a spirit of insubordination, and was there 
fore soon sold by him. James H. Hill, another colored contem 
porary of Reuben West, asserts that West owned two slaves, and 
that one of them was a mulatto barber. As far as the statements 
made by these men in lengthy interviews with the author could be 
verified in authentic records, they were found to be trustworthy. 
See also Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary, vol. iv, pp. 
174-182, for negro slave-owners enumerated in a list, prepared by 
the commissioners of the revenue, of all slave-owners of Princess 
Anne County in 1840. 
5 Hening, vol. ii, p. 481. 

38 Ibid., vol. iii, p. 459. 


Such as lived on frontier plantations could upon application 
be granted licenses to keep and use one gun. 37 

The acts regulating the enlistment of free negroes in 
the militia in the eighteenth century show the distrust which 
was felt of negroes in possession of firearms. The militia 
act of 1748 declared that "all such free mulattoes, negroes 
or Indians, as are or shall be listed, as aforesaid, shall ap 
pear without arms." 38 The substance of this provision was 
repeated in I755 39 and in I757- 40 The provision was 
dropped during the Revolution, manifestly for the purpose 
of permitting free colored men to become soldiers. 41 With 
the increase of the free negro class and following the dis 
covery of a negro plot in 1800, the feeling of danger from 
free negroes in possession of firearms became more intense ; 
and a law of 1806 forbade any free negro or mulatto, house 
keeper or otherwise, to " keep or carry any fire-lock of any 
kind, any military weapon or any powder or lead " without 
first obtaining a license from the county or corporation 
court. 42 A free negro caught with a gun or other weapon 
in violation of this act forfeited the weapon to the informer, 
and received thirty-nine lashes at the whipping-post. 43 

More rigid still was the law dealing with this subject 
which was passed in the first session of the legislature after 
the Southampton insurrection. 44 So much of former acts 
as permitted justices to grant licenses to free negroes or 

37 Hening, vol. iv, p. 131. 
88 Ibid., vol. v, p. 17. 

39 Ibid., vol. vi, p. 33. 

40 Ibid., vol. vii, p. 95. 

41 Ibid., vol. ix, p. 27 (1775); vol. ix, p. 268 (1777) ; see below, 
p. no. 

42 A Norfolk County court in 1820 made the following order: 
" Upon the application of James Cuffie, a free man of colour, re 
siding in this county, a license is granted him to keep a gun with 
ammunition for the protection of his property" (MS. Orders, 
1819-1820, circa p. 280). Note also the following: "Ordered that 
the order of this court made the 9th day of August last granting 
permission to James Harris a free man of colour to carry and use a 
gun be rescinded" (MS. Minutes of Henrico County, no. 27, p. 516). 

43 Hening, vol. xvi, p. 274. 
"Acts, 1831-1832, p. 20. 


mulattoes to keep or carry a firelock or any powder or lead 
were by this law repealed. This absolute denial to free 
negroes of the use of firearms imposed a serious disability 
upon the farming element of this class. In 1839 Thomas 
Beasley, a free negro of Giles County, remonstrated to the 
legislature against this prohibition, saying that the moun 
tainous frontier country where he lived was infested with 
wild beasts, and that the law prohibiting free negroes to use 
firelocks subjected him and his class to a great hardship in 
that they had no means of protecting their domestic animals 
and crops. 45 A similar petition, endorsed with the signa 
tures of eighty white citizens, was presented in 1840 by James 
and Joseph Viney, free negroes of Giles County. 46 In 
spite of remonstrances against this law, it remained in force 
until the Civil War. 47 In 1839 patrols in search of arms 
unlawfully held were granted authority to force open the 
doors of such free negroes as were suspected of violating 
these laws. 48 

The ownership by free negroes of dogs, as of firearms, 
was objectionable, and for similar reasons. Prowling free 
negroes accompanied by dogs became a menace, particularly 
to the sheep-raising industry, 49 and efforts were made in 
several counties to prevent free negroes from keeping dogs. 
In 1848 an act forbade free negroes in Mathews County to 
own dogs. 50 In 1858 a similar law was passed for the coun 
ties of Essex, King and Queen, James City, and New Kent. 61 
For passing through or going about in any of these last 
named counties with a dog a free negro was liable to pun 
ishment by stripes, not exceeding thirty-nine, and a fine of 
five dollars. A bill to make general the prohibition through- 

45 MS. Petitions, Giles County, 1839, A 6812. 

" Ibid., 1840, A 6821. 

47 Code (1849), P- 754; Code (1860), p. 816. 

* Acts, 1839, P- 24. 

See a petition to the legislature which represents that both free 
negroes and dogs kill sheep as they prowl through the neighbor 
hood (MS. Petitions, Chesterfield County, 1854, A 4321). 

60 Acts, 1847-1848; House Journal, 1847-1848, p. 436. 

51 Acts, 1857-1858, p. 152. 


out the State passed the House of Delegates in 1848, but 
failed to receive the approval of the Senate. 52 

The laws of Virginia extended their protection not only, 
as we have already seen, to the property of the free negro, 
but, as we shall now see, to his life and liberty. In any 
case in which the freedom of a negro was disputed the bur 
den of proof was upon the negro to show that he was free. 
Unlike the recognized principle of English law which de 
mands that every man be regarded as innocent till his guilt 
is established by evidence, a free negro taken up and de 
prived of his liberty as being a slave had, in order to procure 
his release, to produce evidence that he was not a slave. In 
1806 George Wythe, chancellor of the State of Virginia, 
gave as grounds for decreeing the freedom of three persons 
claimed as slaves that freedom is the birthright of every 
human being. He laid it down as a general proposition that 
whenever one person claims to hold another in slavery, the 
onus probandi lies on the claimant. This application of the 
Declaration of Independence was completely repudiated by 
the supreme court of appeals when the case came up for 
final review. 53 Judge Tucker, who spoke for a unanimous 
court, asserted that the burden of proof is not upon the 
claimant, but upon the negro to show that he is free ; whereas 
with a white man or an Indian held in slavery the burden is 
with the claimant. 5 * Again, in Fulton s Executors v. Gracey 

"House Journal, 1847-1848, p. 436. In the act incorporating the 
town of Manchester authority was given to the trustees to prohibit 
slaves, free negroes, and mulattoes from raising hogs and dogs 
(Acts, 1843-1844, p. 96). 

Although free negroes were not forbidden to possess poisonous 
drugs and intoxicating liquors, the sale of these articles to them 
was a matter of rigid regulation or absolute prohibition (Acts, 
1855-1856, p. 45; 1857-1858, p. 51). Complaint came to the legisla 
ture in 1836 that free^negroes were acting as agents for slaves in 
purchasing ardent spirits from the venders (MS. Petitions, North 
umberland County, 1836, B 4969). 

"Hudgins v. Wright, I Hening and Munford, 133. 

M In the argument Judge Tucker supposes that " three persons, a 
black or mulatto man or woman with a flat nose and woolly head; 
a copper-colored person with long jetty black or straight hair; 
and one with fair complexion, brown hair, not woolly, nor inclined 
thereto, with a prominent Roman nose, were brought together before 


the court declared that " in the case of a person visibly ap 
pearing to be a white man or Indian the presumption is that 
he is free, but in the case of a person visibly appearing to 
be a negro, the presumption is that he is a slave. . . . The 
plaintiff in a suit for freedom must make out his title 
against all the world." 55 

The presumption being thus against the freedom of ne 
groes, there was always a temptation to " divers ill-disposed 
persons" to force free negroes into slavery by theft, cap 
ture, or collusion, especially those free negroes whose occu 
pations were already servile. 56 A law of 1765, designed to 
prevent this practice, fixed at 70 the penalty for selling as 
a slave a colored person who was only a servant. 57 In 1788, 
when the precious character and value of liberty was re 
ceiving unusual emphasis, a law was enacted which fixed 
upon persons guilty of stealing or selling as a slave any free 
negro or mulatto the extreme penalty of death without ben 
efit of clergy. 58 By the enactments of 1792 the penalty re 
mained the same, but in the codification of 1819 it was 
changed from death 59 to imprisonment in the penitentiary 
for at least two years. 60 An act of 1848 raised the mini 
mum term to three years, and after that no further change 
was made in the penalty for this offense. 61 

Far from becoming empty verbiage in our criminal code, 
these laws received general and often rigorous enforce 
ment. 62 In the opinion of the general court in Common- 

a judge upon a suit of habeas corpus. . . . How must the Judge act 
in this ^ase? . . . If the whole case be left with the judge, he must 
deliver the [white man and the Indian] out of custody, and permit 
the negro to remain in slavery, until he could produce proof of his 
freedom." Cf. case of Aron Jackson, in MS. Minutes of Henrico 
County, no. 27, p. 142. 

55 15 Grattan, 323. 

68 For examples, see Calendar of Virginia State Papers, vol. i, 
p. 10; ii Leigh, 633; MS. Minutes of Henrico County, no. 27, p. 129. 

67 Hening, vol. viii, p. 133. 
1 Ibid., vol. xii, p. 531. 

68 Ibid., vol. xiv, p. 127. 
80 1 Revised Code, 427. 

"Acts, 1847-1848, p. 97; Code (1860), p. 785. 
62 MS. Minutes of Henrico County, no. 27, p. 129; Commonwealth 
v. Nix, ii Leigh, 636. 


wealth v. Mercer they were not to be construed as a pro 
tection for a white man who might become the victim of 
fraud if a free negro should be sold to him as a slave, but 
their purpose and use was the protection of free negroes in 
their freedom. 63 In Davenport v. Commonwealth 64 the 
supreme court of appeals held that kidnapping a free negro 
without the actual sale constituted the crime against which 
the law was directed, and, further, that stealing a free negro 
with felonious intent to appropriate him was criminal, 
whether the person knew him to be free or not. The ac 
tivity and interest manifested in the prosecution of viola 
tors of this law is shown by the proclamation of Governor 
Lee issued July 8, 1794: 

Whereas I have received information that some wicked and evil- 
disposed persons . . . did on the night of the 20th of June last 
feloniously steal and take away two children of Peggy Howell, a 
free Mulatto living in the county of Charlotte, with a design as is 
supposed to sell them in some of the neighboring states as slaves, 
the name and description of which children are contained in the Hue 
and Cry subjoined, and whereas the rights of humanity are deeply 
interested in the restoration of the children to their parents, and 
the good order of society is involved in the punishment of the 
offenders, I do by and with the advice of the Council of State issue 
this Proclamation offering a reward of Fifty Dollars for the re 
covery of each of the said children and the further sum of one 
hundred dollars for apprehending and securing in the public jail of 
Charlotte County the offender or offenders. 


Against the easy abuse of the principle of presuming 
slavery from color the liberty of the free negro was further 
safeguarded by remedial laws of procedure and by a general 
liberality in the courts in consideration of all claims to free 
dom. A legally certified register, called by the free negroes 

^Abram Hirer, a free negro, entered into an agreement with a 
white man named Mercer to allow himself to be sold as a slave. 
Hiter, it was planned, would later assert his freedom and share 
with Mercer the proceeds of the sale. Mercer s act of defrauding 
the purchaser was not punishable under the law, inasmuch as it in 
volved no fraud upon the negro (2 Va. Cases, 144). 

64 1 Leigh, 588. 

65 MS. Proclamation Book, p. 53; Calendar of Virginia State 
Papers, vol. viii, p. 231. See MS. Court Records of Charlotte 
County, 1794, for proceedings of a court held for the purpose of 
taking depositions in this case. 


" free papers," was sufficient to repel the presumption and 
to shift the burden of proof to the person denying freedom 
to its possessor. " To suppose," said the court in Delacy 
v. Antoine, "that a free negro in possession of regular free 
papers may be falsely imprisoned without redress is indeed 
to attribute a gross and lamentable omission to the law. To 
confine that redress to a suit in forma pauperis to establish 
his freedom when he already has the conclusive proof of it 
in his hands would be a mockery. A free negro as well as a 
free white man must be entitled to the habeas corpus act." 66 
After 1793 every free negro was required to register in 
the county or corporation court, and for twenty-five cents 
was entitled to a copy of the register with the seal of the 
court annexed, which copy was prima facie evidence of 
freedom. 67 In the absence of immediate evidence of free 
dom, a free negro detained as a slave could bring suit in 
forma pauperis, in which he had the benefit of assigned 
counsel and which was conducted without cost to the plain 
tiff. 68 He was protected by the laws against intimidation 
in his suit from the person claiming to be his master. 69 
Courts of equity were open to him. 70 Liberal rules of evi 
dence in suits either in law or equity where freedom was 
involved were applied. If he had lost his free papers, he 
could offer evidence that he had once had them. 71 Hear 
say and reputation were received as evidence of the status 
of one s ancestors in an effort to establish free birth. 72 An 

66 7 Leigh, 438; cf. 15 Grattan, 256, 323. 

67 Hening, vol. xiv, p. 238; I Revised Code, 440. 

68 Hening, vol. xiv, p. 363; I Revised Code, 481. "On petition of 
Sarah [and her children] ... It is ordered that they be allowed to 
sue for their freedom in this court in forma pauperis and James 
Rind Gent is assigned their counsel to prosecute the said suits and 
that their owners do not presume to remove, beat or misuse them 
upon this account, but suffer them to come to the Clerk s office of 
this court for subpoenas for their witnesses and to attend their ex 
aminations " (Orders of Hustings Court of Richmond, no. 5, p. 41). 

^Orders of Hustings Court of Richmond, no. 5, p. 41. 

70 Sam v. Blakemore, 4 Randall, 466; I Hening and Munford, 133. 

71 MS. Minutes of Henrico County, no. 27, p. 503. 

72 In Pegram v. Isabell, a suit for freedom, a witness for the negro 
testified that he had heard a very old man say that he believed a 
certain ancestor of Isabell was free. The supreme court of appeals 


oft repeated doctrine of the supreme court of appeals was 
that the laws should be construed as far as possible in favor 
of freedom. "I will remark," said Judge Campbell, "that 
this court has often declared that the same strictness as to 
form will not be required in actions for freedom as in other 
cases." 73 Judge Roane, speaking for the court in Patty v. 
Colin in 1807, said : " The spirit of the decisions of this court 
in relation to suits for freedom, while it neither abandons 
the rules of evidence nor the rules of law, applying to prop 
erty, with a becoming liberality, respects the merit of the 
claim. . . . On this ground it is that parties suing for free 
dom are not confined to the rigid rules of proceeding and 
that their claims are not repudiated by the Court as long as 
a possible chance exists that they can meet with a successful 
issue." 74 

These special rules of procedure were needed, however, 
only in cases in which the question of freedom was being 
tried. " Where there is no contest about that right, but the 
litigation arises out of other matters it would be absurd to 
send the petitioner [a free negro] to sue in forma pauperis," 
said Judge Tucker, in a case before the court in 1836; "the 
remedy of habeas corpus must of course prevail." 75 A trial 
upon a writ of habeas corpus could not be denied a free 
negro if detained or deprived of his liberty by any person 
not claiming to be his master, 76 as, for example, by a creditor 

held that such evidence was admissible (2 Hening and Munford, 210; 
cf. Gregory v. Baugh, 2 Leigh, 665, and Hudgins v. Wrights, I Hen- 
ing and Munford, 134). In 15 Grattan, 314, the supreme court says: 
" Evidence of her having acted and been generally reputed as a 
free person is certainly admissible evidence of her freedom." In 
Fulton s Executors v. Gracey the court held that "any legal evi 
dence tending to show that the plaintiffs are free tends to repel 
the presumption arising from color that they are slaves, and is, 
therefore, admissible" (15 Grattan, 323). 

73 McMichens v. Amos, 4 Randall, 134. 

74 1 Hening and Munford, 519. 

75 7 Leigh, 538. 

"Delacy v. Antoine et al., 7 Leigh, 443 (1836); Rudler s Execu 
tors v. Ben, 10 Leigh, 467; Shue v. Turk, 15 Grattan, 256; Minor, 
vol. i, p. 169. In the case of Peter et al. v. Hargrave (5 Grattan, 
14), tried in 1848, Judge Baldwin said concerning the rights of a 
free negro, " Against continued force he may invoke the high and 
summary remedy by writ of habeas corpus." 


of himself or of his former owner ; nor was he handicapped 
in such cases with the burden of proof or a presumption of 
guilt against him. Against persons doing him injury or for 
the enforcement of contracts he could bring suit in any court 
that was open to any other freeman. 77 In case the decisions 
of the lower courts were adverse, he could appeal even to 
the highest court of the State. 78 He could, and often did, 
petition the legislature when his grievances were such as 
could not be redressed by the courts. 79 

Prior to 1832, trial by jury was the method of determin 
ing the guilt or innocence of free negroes charged with 
crimes. They were regularly indicted or presented by a 
grand jury, and were entitled to a hearing upon the indict 
ment before a petit jury. 80 Being indicted, they were al 
lowed to go at liberty when they could furnish a satisfactory 
bond to secure their appearance in answer to the indict 
ment. 81 They were entitled to counsel, could make excep 
tions in arrest of judgment, and the unanimous consent of 

77 " William Palmer appeared to answer the complaint of Peter 
Robinson (a free black man) against him for breach of the peace." 
Palmer was bound under penalty of forfeiture of one hundred 
dollars " to keep the peace and be of good behavior . . . and par 
ticularly toward Peter Robinson" (Orders of Hustings Court of 
Richmond, no. 5, p. 132). The Norfolk County court records (1718- 
J/JQ) P- *) contain the following entry: "Robert Richards and the 
rest of the free negroes agst. Lewis Corner Meritt in an action for 
debt not being prosecuted is dismissed." See also, MS. Orders of 
Henrico County, no. 6, p. 4, for the case of " David Cowper, a free 
negro, Pit. against Beltaes Dorish Deft. Suit abated by death of 
Deft." Also MS. Court Orders of Norfolk County, 1768-1771, 
p. 257: "Frank (a free negro) against Jane Miller;" and Jeffer 
son s Reports, go. 

78 Ex parte Morris, n Grattan, 292 (1854), was a case in which a 
free negro appealed from a corporation court to a circuit court and 
finally to the supreme court of appeals. Winn s Administrators v. 
Jones was a case taken on appeal in 1835 by a negro to the supreme 
court of appeals ; this court sustained his challenge of free negro 
witnesses used against him in the lower court (6 Leigh, 74). 

"See Calendar of Virginia State Papers, vol. i, p. 10 (1665); 
Journal of the House of Burgesses, 1760-1769, p. 198: "a petition 
of the people called mulattoes and free negroes ;" MS. Petitions, 
Henrico County, 1838, and below, pp. 142-144, for examples of peti 
tions of free negroes to the state legislature. 

80 John Aldridge v. the Commonwealth, 2 Va. Cases, 447; St. G. 
Tucker, A Dissertation on Slavery, pp. 56-58. 

81 Orders of Hustings Court of Richmond, no. n, p. 153- 


the jurymen was necessary for conviction. Prior to 1832, 
in the method of trial for crimes free negroes were on the 
same footing as white men. 82 

In the first session of the legislature following the South 
ampton insurrection in 1831, free negroes were denied by 
statute the right of trial by jury, except for offenses punish 
able with death. Thereafter they were tried by courts of 
oyer and terminer, 83 which had been in use since 1692 for 
the " speedy prosecution of slaves . . . without the sollem- 
nitie of jury." 84 No fewer than five justices of the county 
or corporation could sit as a court, and a unanimous decision 
was necessary for conviction. The decisions of the court, 
comprehending both the law and the fact, were final. 85 The 
trial took place within ten days after commitment of the 
prisoners to jail, and conviction was followed by a speedy 
execution of the sentence. 88 The substitution of this sum 
mary method of trial for the former method of trial by jury 
is indicative of the disfavor into which the free negro had 
fallen, and represents no small change in his legal status. 

For minor offenses and misdemeanors free negroes suf 
fered penalties similar to those inflicted upon slaves for 
similar violations. Throughout the entire period whipping, 
"not exceeding thirty-nine lashes on the bare back, well 
laid on," was not an unusual penalty for free negroes as 

83 St. G. Tucker, A Dissertation on Slavery, pp. 56, 57 ; Peter v. 
Hargrave, 5 Grattan, 12. See Hening, vol. xv, p. 77, on " due course 
of law" to be pursued in convicting free negroes of conspiracy 
with slaves. 

88 Acts, 1831-1832, ch. 22, sec. 9; Code (1860), ch. ccxii. An 
amendment to strike out of the law the clause denying to free 
negroes jury trial was lost in the Senate by a vote of 9 to 20 (Senate 
Journal, 1832, p. 177). The act provided that free negroes should 
be tried by the slave courts " in all cases where the punishment 
shall be death." Disputes at once arose as to whether this meant 
offenses for which slaves had suffered death or offenses capital 
when committed by free negroes. The courts prevented the severity 
of the law relating to the punishment of slaves from passing to the 
free negroes by determining that the act changed the method of trial 
but not the method of punishment (4 Leigh, 652, 658, 661). 

84 Hening, vol. iii, p. 102; vol. iv, p. 127. 

85 1 Revised Code, 428-430 ; Supplement to Revised Code, 248 ; 
Anderson (Free negro) v. Commonwealth, 5 Leigh, 740. 
86 1 Revised Code, 428. 


well as for slaves. Corporal chastisement was prescribed 
as a punishment for free negroes in many cases which, had 
the offender been a white man, would have merited the 
penalty of a fine. For instance, for importing a free negro 
a white man was to be imprisoned from six to twelve 
months and fined not less than five hundred dollars, whereas 
a free negro for the same offense was to receive not less 
than twenty nor more than thirty-nine lashes at the public 
whipping-post. 87 For unlawful destruction of oysters in 
the tidewater section a white man would under the law be 
fined fifty dollars, while a free negro would be fined twenty 
dollars and given thirty-nine lashes on the bare back. 88 For 
unlawfully harboring a slave a white man and a free negro 
alike forfeited ten dollars, but if the negro was unable to 
pay the fine, he was given thirty-nine lashes instead. 89 In 
many such instances the law openly discriminated against the 
free negro, making his punishments more severe than those 
inflicted upon white freemen, while the shield given to slaves 
in their misdemeanors by the disciplinary authority of the 
master rendered the liability to public punishments of the 
slave less than that of the free negro. The free negro 
was the individual for whom the laws seem to have been 
intended, and to him they were applied with peculiar rigor. 
For the more serious offenses, that is, for grand larceny 
and other felonies, the punishments to be administered to 
free negroes and whites were for the most part the same. 
A notable discrimination was introduced in 1823 when 
crime among the free negroes was believed to be rapidly 
increasing, and the penitentiary system was receiving blame 
for a lack of restraint on and moral improvement of this 
class of the population. 90 The legislature enacted that free 
negroes previously punishable with imprisonment in the 

87 Acts, 1833-1834, p. 78. 

" Ibid., 1836-1837, P. 56. 

89 Hening, vol. xv, p. 77. "They are subjected to restraints and 
surveillance in points beyond number" (Howison, vol. ii, p. 460). 

90 Report of the Superintendent of Penitentiary, in Documents of 
the House of Delegates, 1848-1849, no. 15, cited as House Docu 


penitentiary for terms of more than two years were there 
after to be whipped, transported, and sold into slavery be 
yond the limits of the United States. 91 This act was con 
strued to mean that any free negro found guilty of a crime 
for which the maximum penalty prescribed was more than 
two years, even though the minimum might be only six 
months, should be whipped and sold as a slave. Thus con 
strued, the act included within its scope almost every crime, 
except petty larceny, committed by free negroes. Public 
sentiment disapproved of this inhuman law, and forced its 
repeal, although thirty-five negroes were transported and 
sold into slavery during the four years that it remained in 
force. 92 In 1828 imprisonment in the penitentiary was 
again resorted to as a punishment for free negroes, but five 
years was made the shortest term for which a free negro 
could be sentenced, whereas two years was the minimum 
for white persons. 93 In 1833 proposals to make more severe 
the penalties upon free negroes were voted down in the 
House of Delegates as inexpedient. 94 The penal code of 
1848 made uniform for all free persons the penalties for 
most criminal offences. 95 A final discrimination was intro 
duced in 1860 by an act which provided that free negroes 
convicted of crimes punishable by sentence to the peni 
tentiary could at the discretion of the court be sold into per 
petual slavery. 96 

The right to go from place to place without hindrance 
might well be regarded as a right fundamental to real free 
dom, yet in few other respects was the liberty of free ne- 

91 Acts, 1822-1823, p. 36. The constitutionality of this act was 
passed upon and maintained by the general court of the State in 
the case of John Aldridge (free negro) v. the Commonwealth, 2 
Va. Cases, 447. 

92 Reports of the Superintendent of Penitentiary, in House Docu 
ments, no. 15, 1848-1849, and no. 4, 1853-1854, p. 45; W. B. Giles, 
comp., Political Miscellanies: Letters to La Fayette; opinions of 
Dade and Parker in John Aldridge v. Commonwealth, 2 Va. Cases, 
452, 457- 

93 Acts, 1827-1828, p. 29. 

94 House Journal, 1832-1833, p. 208. 

95 Acts, 1847-1848, p. 99; Code (1849), p. 728 et seq. 
98 Acts, 1859-1860, p. 163. 


groes restricted so much as in this. In the colonial period 
there was little regulation of their movements ; but from the 
time that their number reached several thousand on to the 
Civil War their liberty to move about in the State and to go 
out and return was very much restricted. In 1793 free ne 
groes were forbidden to come into the State from any source 
to take up permanent residence. 97 The penalty upon a 
"master of a vessel or other person" for bringing in any 
free negro or mulatto was 100. A free negro living within 
the State could not go from one town or county to another 
to seek employment without a copy of his register, which 
was kept in the court of his county or corporation. Vio 
lators of this law were often committed to jail until they 
made proof of their freedom and paid the jailer s fee. If 
they were unable to pay this fee, they were hired out to the 
highest bidder for a time sufficient to pay the charges. 98 By 
an act of 1801 any free negro who, even though in posses 
sion of " free papers," removed into another county or cor 
poration was declared an intruder, and made liable to arrest 
as a vagrant. 99 By a later act they were denied the right to 
change their residence from one county or town to another 
without permission from the court of the county or corpora 
tion to which they wished to go. 100 After 1848 no free 
negro could leave the State for the purpose of education, 
or go for any purpose to a non-slave-holding State and re- 

97 Hening, vol. xiv, p. 239. Free negroes travelling as servants 
to white persons or working on vessels were excepted; but if such 
negro servant got away from his master or from the ship, the bur 
den of proof was upon him to show why he should not be whipped 
as an unlawful emigrant (Acts, 1833-1834, p. 79). 

98 Hening, vol. xiv, p. 238 ; i Revised Code, 441 ; Code of Va. 
(1849), 467. "Ordered that the Jailor discharge from his cus 
tody Aron Jackson and Johnson who were committed to Jail for 
want of free papers (it appearing to the satisfaction of the court 
that they are free) upon their paying the Jailor s fees and the costs 
of this order" (MS. Minutes of Henrico County, no. 27, 1830). 

99 Hening, vol. xv, p. 301 ; I Revised Code, 441. By the vagrancy 
laws of this time, " persons within the true description of a vagrant" 
were committed to a public workhouse for a term not exceeding 
three months, or were hired out by the overseers of the poor (2 
Revised Code, 275, 276). 

100 House Journal, 1815-1816, p. 94, for grant of a petition to re 
move from one county to another; Code (1849), 468> (1860) 522. 


turn. 101 Although these laws restricting the movements of 
the free negro were not enforced with equal thoroughness 
throughout the State, they were nevertheless enforced suffi 
ciently to render precarious the condition of any violator. 

Possibly the most extraordinary legal right possessed by 
free negroes at any time during the continuation of slavery 
was the right to choose a master and to go into voluntary 
bondage. Liberty to become a slave was one variety of 
liberty which a white man could not have exercised had he 
wished to do so. One might surmise that this right pos 
sessed for a while by free negroes was of a higher class of 
rights than the fundamental, inherent rights spoken of by 
the constitutional fathers ; for a free negress who exercised 
it deprived and divested her posterity of liberty, and sub 
jected both herself and it to perpetual tyranny. 

Regardless of what may be said of the nature of this very 
unusual right, it is a fact that free negroes did not possess 
it until near the end of the slavery regime. Before 1856 a 
special act was deemed necessary to render legal the slavery 
of a free negro who of his own will selected a master. A 
number of such private acts, making it lawful for certain 
free negroes, whose names were mentioned in the acts, " to 
select a master or mistress," were passed in the first half of 
the decade of the fifties. 102 In 1856 a general act was passed 
making it lawful for any free colored man over twenty-one 
and any free colored woman over eighteen years of age to 
select a master or a mistress. 103 A free negro desiring so 
to alter his status could file a signed petition with the circuit 
judge stating the name of the proposed master or mistress. 
The petition would be posted for one month at the door of 
the court-house; if the judge was satisfied that there was 
no fraud, he would grant the request and fix a value on the 
petitioner. When one half of the designated price was paid 
into the public treasury, the petitioner became as much the 

101 Acts, 1847-1848, p. 119. 

102 Ibid., 1853-1854, P- 131 ; 1855-1856, p. 278. 

103 Ibid., 1855-1856, p. 37 et seq. 


absolute property of his chosen master as if he had been 
born a slave. The rule that the status of a child followed 
the status of the mother at the time of the birth of the child 
was applicable to the offspring of free colored females who 
elected to be slaves. 

Hard as was the lot of some free negroes in Virginia be 
tween 1856 and 1861, the courts had not many petitioners 
seeking the refuge of slavery. The reports of the auditor 
who took account of the receipts of the treasury from this 
source show that not more than a score of free negroes took 
advantage of their opportunities under the act of 1856. For 
the year ending September 30, 1859, $2308.91 was received 
into the treasury as receipts of the sale by the local courts 
of four free negroes. 104 The report for the fiscal year end 
ing September 30, 1860, shows that three negroes went into 
voluntary bondage, and that $902.50 was received by the 
State from their purchasers. 105 

Thus far in this chapter attention has been confined to 
the question of the extent and degree of protection over 
property and liberty enjoyed by the free negro under the 
laws of Virginia. A question no less essential to a full 
treatment of the free negro s legal status is the extent of 
his participation in the affairs of the government. In what 
capacities could he, and did he, lend support to that govern 
ment which afforded him the measure of benefits already 
described ? 

From a very early date in the history of the colony up 
to the close of the Civil War military service was required 
of the free negro. As early as 1723 there were some free 
negroes enlisted in the state militia, and they were, for that 
reason, permitted to keep one gun, powder, and shot. 108 
During the last war between the English and the French for 
supremacy in America free negroes were employed in the 
Virginia service as "drummers, trumpeters, or pioneers or 

1M House Documents, 1859-1860, no. 5, p. 423. 
105 Ibid., 1861, no. 5, P- 652. 
108 Hening, vol. iv, p. 131. 


in such other servile labour as they shall be directed to 
perform." 107 

In the War of Independence the free negro in Virginia 
performed a worthy and useful service. 108 The recruiting 
laws made eligible for service " all male persons, hired ser 
vants and apprentices above the age of sixteen and under 
fifty," 109 but did not permit the enlistment of slaves or of 
servants bound to serve till thirty-one years of age. 110 That 
free negroes were enlisted under these laws there is no 
room for doubt. A letter written April 24, 1783, to the 
governor by William Reynolds, commissary of military 
stores, states that James Day had been accused of " trans 
gressing in defrauding a black soldier and through a hasty 
& rather unfair hearing was ordered to prison where he now 
lies punishing." 111 In 1777 an act of Assembly designated 
drumming, fifing, and pioneering for the employment of 
the free mulattoes of the company. 112 Runaway slaves pre- 

10T Hening, vol. v, p. 17 (1748) ; vol. vi, p. 533 (1755) ; vol. vii, p. 95 

108 Cf. G. H. Moore, Historical Notes on the Employment of 
Negroes in the American Army of the Revolution, p. 16. 

109 Proceedings of Convention of Delegates for the Counties and 
Corporations of the Colony of Virginia, 1775, p. 36. 

uo Hening, vol. ix, pp. 81, 346, 592; MS. Petitions, Prince Wil 
liam County. The enforcement of this act excluding servants gave 
rise to the following statement of certain officials in a petition to 
the legislature: "Jesse Kelly, a mulatto man bound agreeably to 
act of assembly to Lewis Lee until the said Kelly should arrive at 
the age of thirty-one years . . . was enlisted as your petitioners 
believe they had a right to do by act of May session, 1777." By 
the act referred to, " Apprentices and servants could be enlisted " 
(Hening, vol. ix, p. 275). Strictness was shown also in enforcing 
the law against the enlistment of slaves. A court martial was held 
in Goochland County, March 19, 1781, to try Colonel Jolly Parrish 
on the accusation of having " enlisted a slave as a substitute for his 
division knowing him to be so." Parrish pleaded that he believed 
the negro to be a free man; but the evidence showed the contrary, 
and Parrish was cashiered (Calendar of Virginia State Papers, vol. 
i, P. 582). 

1U Calendar of Virginia State Papers, vol. iii, p. 472. 

The following advertisement appeared in the Virginia Gazette for 
March 7, 1775 : " Deserted the following recruits from King William 
County : Copeland a white man & William Holmes a mulatto about 
45 yrs of age is about 6 ft high. A Guinea reward for the white 
man as a Pistole for Holmes." (A bound volume of the Virginia 
Gazette in the Library of the Johns Hopkins University.) 

113 Hening, vol. ix, p. 268. 


tending to be free were accepted for enlistment to an extent 
that demanded in 1777 an act which required of every negro 
a certificate from a justice of the peace that he was a free 
man before he could be admitted into the army. 113 Some 
white slave-owners preferred to offer their slaves as sub 
stitutes rather than render personal service in the army. 
In order to induce the negroes to enlist and to get them 
accepted they were presented for substitutes as if they were 
free. When the war was over, a law was passed to make 
good the promise of such masters by declaring free all ne 
groes who had served in the war, and by further providing 
that any such negro held as a slave could recover damages 
by a suit at no expense to himself. 114 

There were some free negroes in Virginia who took part 
in the War of 1812. For example, Lewis Bowlagh, a Vir 
ginia free negro, served for a time in the United States 
army, and was transferred to the squadron of Commodore 
John Shaw, where he served until the close of the war. 115 
A good many were drafted into the Confederate service in 
the War of Secession. All male free negroes between the 
ages of eighteen and fifty years were held "liable to per- 

118 Hening, vol. ix, p. 280. The Virginia Gazette for April 14, 1783, 
contained an advertisement over the name of Henry Skipwith which 
offered a " handsome reward " for the apprehension of a mulatto 
slave who had run away from his master and had been received as 
a substitute in the continental army. He " reenlisted for the war 
last fall," says the notice, " went with the troops to Winchester 
from whence he deserted. . . . Since his desertion he has cut off his 
forefinger of his right hand in order to marry a free woman near 
Pine Creek Mill in Powhatan County, who had determined never 
to have a husband in the continental army, and supposed this mutila 
tion would procure him a discharge." 

U4 Hening, vol. xi, p. 308 (1783). It should be observed that the 
law held these negroes to be free from the time they enlisted, and 
that it was passed to protect them in their right to freedom and not 
in any sense to confer freedom upon them. The few slaves that, 
contrary to law, were enlisted as slaves were unaffected by this act. 
To receive freedom for their services in the cause of independence, 
slaves had to obtain the passage of special acts (ibid., vol. xiii, pp. 
103, 619; Virginia Historical Collections, vol. iv, p. 309). See the 
petition of Saul, a slave who served in the American army both as a 
soldier and as a spy among the British (MS. Petitions, Norfolk 
County, 64314). Compare also Petition 64051, New Kent County; 
B 314, Norfolk County. 

115 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1816, A 9353- 


form any labor or discharge any duties with the army or in 
any connection with the military defenses, producing and 
preparing materials for war, building roads, etc." 118 Such 
free negroes as were engaged in the public service were 
subject to the military rules, which were explained especially 
for their benefit by the officers of the army. In both the 
Confederate and the United States navies service was per 
formed by Virginia free negroes. 117 The positions they 
filled were doubtless of the lowest rank, and the services 
performed of a menial or routine nature, as indeed was most 
of their military service throughout the entire period under 

In the matter of taxation, also, the free negro stood in 
relation to the government as its supporter. Far from being 
exempt from taxation, he was usually required to pay a 
higher poll-tax than the free white man. As early as 1668 
a question arose as to whether free negro women should be 
exempted from capitation taxes as English women were. 
The legislature declared in an act that they ought not " in 
all respects to be admitted to full fruition of the exemptions 
of the English," and that they were still liable to payment 
of taxes. 118 In 1769 a petition signed by free negroes and 

" Acts, 1861-1862; Senate Bill no. 129, among pamphlets relating 
to the Confederate government, in Virginia State Library. 

Joseph Tinsley, a freeborn negro of Hanover County, was drafted 
into the Confederate service, and was at first assigned to the duty 
of keeping the telegraph lines in repair. He was later pu: to driv 
ing a government wagon. An aged antebellum free negro living 
(1910) at 208 Broad Street, Richmond, says that his father was 
drafted for service in the Confederacy. 

UT MS. Petitions, A 9353 ; cf. Hening, vol. xiii, p. 103. John Miller, 
at one time a colored statesman of the reconstruction period, and 
in 1910 overseer of laborers in the United States Navy-yard at 
Portsmouth, gave the following account of his life : Born of free 
parents in Portsmouth, Virginia, August 15, 1839; worked on a 
farm when a boy ; served for one year W. W. Davis, a groceryman ; 
went into the service of the United States Navy in 1858; was on 
board the Cumberland when it was attacked by the Merrimac; was 
discharged at the expiration of his time; went to Boston, reen- 
listed, and served to the close of the war. He soon got a position 
in the navy-yard, where he has since remained in the service of the 
United States Government. 

118 Hening, vol. ii, p. 267 ; vol. iv, p. 133. Only white women and 
children under sixteen years of age were exempted from the pay- 


mulattoes was presented to the legislature praying that the 
wives and daughters of the petitioners might be exempt 
from taxation. 119 It met with a ready response in the law- 
making body, and an act was passed which, after declaring 
that the former law was very burdensome to such negroes, 
mulattoes, and Indians and derogatory to the rights of free- 
born subjects, exempted " from the payment of any public, 
county, or parish levies all free negro, mulatto, and Indian 
women and all wives other than slaves of free negroes, 
mulattoes and Indians." 120 

Male free negroes were of course still subject to the pay 
ment of taxes on the same basis as were white males. It 
appears that collecting from them offered unusual difficul 
ties, which the legislature endeavored to meet in 1782 by a 
law providing that any free negro who failed to pay the 
levies should be hired out by the sheriff upon the order of a 
county court for a time sufficient to pay all back taxes, pro 
vided he had not sufficient property upon which distress 
could be made for the amount. 121 In 1787 capitation taxes 
were abolished. 122 The burden of the revenue was placed 
upon property, and this burden was borne by free negroes 
just in proportion as they were property owners. It does 
not appear that there was ever any legal discrimination 
against free negroes in the taxation of their property. They 
paid the same rate on their possessions as did white prop 
erty owners. 123 

ment of poll-taxes, with the exception of a few individuals who 
were exempted by special act (ibid., vol. ii, p. 84; vol. iii, p. 259). 
In the seventeenth century the taxes were principally polls assessed 
upon " every master of a family and every freeman." The taxes 
upon servants were paid by the master or owner (ibid., vol. i, p. 143). 

In 1666, when the entire colored population in Virginia was be 
tween one and two thousand, there were as many as nine negroes 
in Northampton County who paid their own taxes (Virginia Mag 
azine of History, vol. x, pp. 194, 254). 

139 Journal of the House of Burgesses, vol. v, p. 198. 
9 Hening, vol. viii, p. 393. 

l ^Ibid., vol. xi, p. 40. 

122 Ibid., vol. xii, p. 431. 

123 Land books of the various counties of Virginia, in the keeping 
of the state auditor of public accounts, Richmond. For the year 
1856 Reuben West, a free colored man of Richmond, paid $17.62 on 



In 1813, however, discriminations in capitation taxes were 
again renewed by laying a special poll-tax of $1.50 upon 
all male free negroes above sixteen years of age, except 
such as were bound as apprentices. 124 This rate was con 
tinued till 1815, when it was raised to $2.50 per poll and 
applied to all male free negroes between the ages of sixteen 
and forty-five. 125 The occasion for levying this poll-tax 
was the need for an increased revenue brought about by 
the War of 1812. The reason for levying it upon free ne 
groes only may have been a widespread desire and purpose, 
strong at this time, to get rid of them. A tax of $2.50 
assessed upon the most active, and therefore the most ob 
jectionable, free negroes was supposed to operate to induce 
some to leave the State, and to reduce others, who refused 
to pay, to a state of servitude. 126 Rigid enforcement pro 
visions were made which authorized the sheriff to hire out 
any free colored tax delinquent till the required amount plus 
five per cent commission should be raised. 127 Although 
some free negroes allowed unpaid assessments to reduce 
them to servitude, these capitation taxes were collected with 
remarkable success. In 1814 $8322 was paid into the treas 
ury by 5547 free negroes, or about ninety per cent of the 
male free negroes within the taxable age. In 1815, when 
the rate was $2.50 instead of $1.50, as in the two preceding 
years, and only such as were between the ages of sixteen 
and forty-five were taxable, 4023 free negroes paid their 
assessments, which amounted to $10,057.50, or a sum 

real estate, the assessed valuation of which was $4420. Scott Cle- 
menze, free colored, paid $22.72 on property valued at $5680. The 
free colored population of Richmond paid in this year $286.81 on 
property assessed at $71,702.50. 
m Acts, 1812-1813, p. 20. 

125 Ibid., 1814-1815, p. 8. 

126 House Journal, 1816-1817, p. 90; Alexander, p. 63; House 
Journal, 1804, December 3. 

127 Acts, 1814-1815, p. 61. If the free negro failing to pay the tax 
had property, distress was made upon that before hiring him out 
(i Revised Code, 431). By the Code of 1860 the minimum price 
per day at which a free negro could be hired to raise back taxes was 
fixed at ten cents, and five years was made the limit of time for 
their collection (p. 522). 


which was equal to the amount received into the treasury 
from lawyers licenses or from the tax on carriages, and was 
one and a half per cent of the total revenue of the State. 128 
During the three years when free colored men were paying 
a high poll-tax the white inhabitants were paying none. 

The capitation tax on free negroes was dropped in 1816, 
after which for twenty years the assessments made on their 
small property holdings were the sum of their contributions 
to the public revenue. 129 In 1850 a tax of one dollar was 
levied annually upon all male free negroes between the ages 
of twenty-one and fifty-five. 130 According to the provisions 
of this law and one of 1853, this tax was to have been used 
for colonizing free negroes in Liberia, but it seems that 
only small amounts were ever paid out for that purpose. 
The disbursements of the treasury for the fiscal year ending 
October, 1858, show that $2100 was the amount spent in 
colonization. Between 1850 and 1853 less than $2000 per 
annum was expended for the purpose. The balance of the 
funds arising from the taxation of free negroes remained in 
the treasury for public purposes. 131 This levy continued in 
force for ten years, and was regularly collected from the 
free colored taxables with about the same success that simi 
lar assessments were collected from white taxpayers. 132 

In 1860 a capitation tax of eighty cents was levied upon 
all free male persons, white and colored, above the age of 
twenty-one years. The former levy of one dollar per head 
on free negroes had not been repealed, and when a question 

^Auditor s Report for 1815-1816; Acts, 1815-1816, p. 88. 

129 In the constitutional convention of 1829-1830 Leigh remarked 
that free negroes were included as taxpayers, " though it is well 
known that they contribute little or nothing to the treasury. They 
should be excluded from the lists of taxpayers" (Proceedings and 
Debates, 1829-1830, p. 152). Joynes, of Accomac County, said 
" Instead of contributing to the revenue they are a perfect nuisance " 
(ibid., p. 211). 

130 Acts, 1849-1850, p. 7. 

131 Auditor s Report for 1859-1860, p. 407; Message of Governor 
Johnson, in House Documents, 1853-1854, no. I. 

132 The average amount contributed to the public treasury from 
1850 to 1860 by free negroes varied between $9000 and $13.000 
(Auditor s Report for 1854-1855, p. 6; for 1861, no. 5, pp. 653, 669; 
for 1859-1860, p. 401 et seq.). 


arose as to whether one or the other or both of these taxes 
should be collected, it was decided in favor of collecting 
both assessments. The collections at $1.80 per head on free 
negroes for 1860 amounted to $13,065.22. 133 The revenue 
act of 1861 declared that no more collections should be 
made under the law of 1853, thus leaving the tax on male 
free negroes over twenty-one years of age at eighty cents 
per poll. 134 The war revenue acts raised the rate rapidly. 
In 1862 adult male free negroes were paying $1.25 per 
capita, and the following year $2. At the latter rate they 
contributed in 1863 $11,554 to the public treasury. 135 After 
1860 the poll-tax assessments were uniform for whites and 
free blacks. 

The services of the free negro in official capacities were 
not demanded or accepted in Virginia. In the seventeenth 
century a few seem to have been entrusted with minor 
offices. The justices of Lancaster County appointed as 
beadle a negro whose duty it was to inflict punishment by 
stripes upon those whom the court adjudged deserving of 
corporal punishment. 136 In 1660 a testator nominated as 
executor of his will and as guardian of his foster daughter 
a negro whose freedom was stipulated in the will. 137 The 
court, however, did not confirm the nomination. In at least 
one instance in the last decade of the seventeenth century a 
negro acted as surety. 138 All office-holding by free negroes 
was stopped by an act of Assembly of 1705 declaring that 
"no negro, mulatto or Indian shall presume to take upon 
him, act in or exercise any office, ecclesiastic, civil or mili 
tary." 139 The penalty for violation was 500. Even the 
ability of a free negro to become a legal witness was lim- 

133 Auditor s Report for 1861, no. 5; Code (1860), p. 243 n. 

134 Acts, 1861, p. 4. 

135 Auditor s Report for 1863; Acts, 1862-1863. 

138 MS. Court Records of Lancaster County, 1652-1657, p. 213, cited 
in P. A. Bruce, Economic History, vol. ii, p. 128. 

137 MS. Court Records of York County, 1657-1662, pp. 211, 217, 
in Virginia State Library. 

138 Ibid., 1689-1698, p. 58; P. A. Bruce, Economic History, vol. ii, p. 

139 Hening, vol. iii, p. 251. 


ited. 140 By this law of 1705, negroes were forbidden to be 
witnesses in any case whatsoever ; but it was found that this 
disability afforded a shield for dishonest free negroes who 
avoided the payment of their just debts for the reason that 
other free negroes were not admitted as witnesses. There 
fore, in 1744 the law was amended so that " any free negro, 
mulatto or Indian being a Christian " should be admitted as 
a witness in both civil and criminal suits against any negro, 
mulatto, or Indian, slave or free. 141 But to allow free ne 
groes to be witnesses even in civil suits to which a white 
man was plaintiff against a negro defendant was discon 
tinued in 1785 ; after that time they were competent wit 
nesses in pleas of the Commonwealth for or against negroes 
or in civil pleas where free negroes alone were parties, and 
in no other cases whatsoever. 142 

Before any negro could become a witness in any case he 
had to receive the following extraordinary charge: "You 
are brought hither as a witness, and by the direction of the 
law I am to tell you, before you give your evidence, that you 
must tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the 
truth ; and that, if it be found hereafter that you tell a lie, 
and give false testimony in this matter, you must for so 
doing have both your ears nailed to the pillory and cut off, 
and receive thirty-nine lashes on the bare back well laid on 
at the common whipping-post." 143 Some time before 1849 
this special injunction against lying was dropped. 

Prior to 1723 there were no legal discriminations against 
free negroes in the limitation or extension of the suffrage. 

140 Andrew Burnaby mentions the exclusion of the evidence of 
negroes as one of the laws " which make it almost impossible to 
convict a planter or white man of the death of a negro or Indian " 
(p. 54 n.). 

1 Hening, vol. v, p. 245. 

142 Ibid., vol. xii, p. 182; I Revised Code, 422; Code (1849), 663. 
An interesting case arose in the circuit court of King William County 
in 1835 in which a white man in an action for debt against J. Winn, 
a free negro, used as witnesses two free negroes. Winn appealed 
to the supreme court of appeals on the ground that free negroes were 
not competent witnesses in the suit. The court sustained the negro s 
claim (6 Leigh, 74). 

143 Hening, vol. vi, p. 107; i Revised Code, 431. 


Elections in Virginia in the seventeenth century were con 
ducted in a very democratic fashion, in this respect resem 
bling mass-meetings more than modern elections in which 
tickets and ballot-boxes figure so conspicuously. The sheriff 
presided over or governed the voters assembled at a voting 
precinct, and determined the choice of the electorate either 
" by view " or by subscribing the names of the voters under 
the name of the candidate for whom they openly declared 
their preference. 144 It was the general feeling in Virginia 
well up to the close of the seventeenth century that it was 
"something hard and unagreeable to reason that any per 
sons shall pay equal taxes and yet have no votes in elec 
tions." 145 Hence all freemen, and servants " having served 
their tyme," were permitted to take part in elections pro 
vided they would " fairly give their votes by subscription 
and not in a tumultuous way." 146 There is no reason or 
evidence which would lead to a belief that the free negroes 
in the colony were excluded from these " free elections " 147 
to which freed servants were admitted. 

In 1670, in accordance with the wishes of the representa 
tives of the restored English monarch, but contrary to the 
feelings of the masses, the principle and practice of uni 
versal suffrage were abandoned. Voting privileges were re 
stricted to freeholders and housekeepers of certain qualifi 
cations, with the avowed purpose of disfranchising persons 
recently freed from servitude; these were thought to have 
little interest in the country, and " oftener make tumults at 
the election to the disturbance of his majesty s peace than 
provide for the conservation thereof by making choyce of 
persons fitly qualified for the discharge of soe great a 
trust." 148 The disfranchisement of a part of the rabble was 
a cause of popular discontent, a fact evidenced by the repeal 
of the restrictions by the Assembly, which was under the 

144 Hening, vol. iii, p. 172. 

145 Ibid., vol. i, p. 403. 

148 Ibid., vol. i, p. 403 ; vol. ii, p. 280. 

147 " Description of the Province of New Albion," in Force Tracts, 
vol. ii, p. 30. 
148 Hening, vol. ii, p. 280. 


influence or domination of the liberal leader, Nathaniel 
Bacon. 149 When the conservative government regained con 
trol, Bacon s laws were repealed, and a statute was enacted 
which restricted the suffrage further than it had ever been 
restricted. 150 Previously, freeholders and housekeepers could 
vote, but now only freeholders could exercise that right. 

From the date of this act, 1676, to 1723 the possession of 
a freehold was a prerequisite to the exercise of the elective 
franchise. Although the laws specifically stated that "no 
woman, sole or covert, infants under the age of twenty-one 
years, or recusant convicts, being freeholders," should be 
allowed to vote, no discrimination was made against free 
holders of color. 151 The restrictions would not have elimi 
nated all free negroes, for some at that time were free 
holders. A freeholder was defined as a person who had 
" an estate real for his own life or the life of another, or any 
estate of any great dignity," 152 which meant that the pos 
session of almost any property entitled a man to voting 

It is almost certain that some free negroes exercised the 
suffrage rights under these provisions, for in 1723 a law 
was enacted which specifically denied to free negroes the 
right to vote. The act declared that " no negro, mulatto, or 
Indian shall hereafter have any vote at the elections of bur 
gesses or any election whatsoever." 153 When this act was 
referred by the Board of Trade to Richard West for the 
consideration of its legal aspects, he remarked : " I cannot 
see why one freeman should be used worse than another 
merely because of his complexion. ... It cannot be right 
to strip all free persons of black complexion from those 

149 Hening, vol. ii, p. 356. 

150 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 425. 

151 Ibid., vol. iii, p. 172. 

152 Ibid., vol. iii, p. 240. 

153 Ibid., vol. iv, p. 133. As revised in 1762, the law provided that 
any free negro or mulatto or other person not having the right to 
vote, who should " presume to vote or poll at any such election, 
shall forfeit and pay 500 pounds of tobacco" (ibid., vol. vii, p. 


rights which are so justly valuable to freemen." 154 His pro 
test was overruled; but an order was passed by the Board 
of Trade and Plantations directing " that a letter be wrote 
to the Governor to know what effect the act ... by which 
free negroes are deprived of voting in all elections had." 155 
A draft of such a letter was presented to the board and 
agreed to on December 10, 1735. Evidence is wanting as to 
what effect the act had, but it marked the close of the period 
prior to the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment to the 
Constitution of the United States when negroes could vote. 
By the first three constitutions of the Commonwealth of 
Virginia voting privileges were restricted to white males of 
certain qualifications. 156 

The question whether the free negro in Virginia was a 
citizen either of the Commonwealth or of the United States 
is one that can be answered only when it has been made 
clear what is connoted by the word " citizen." The free 
negro was always a person in the eyes of the law, and could 
maintain at law certain rights of personal liberty and prop 
erty. He was undoubtedly a national, a subject of Virginia 
and of the United States. If by the word " citizen " is 
meant a subject having full civil and political rights, the 
free negro was not a citizen of the Commonwealth of Vir 
ginia, for after 1723 he could not bear witness except in 
cases in which negroes alone were parties ; he could not be 
a juror or a judge ; he could not bear arms without special 
permission, and even though he owned property and paid 
taxes he could not vote or hold office.^ 

If we attempt to answer the question by reference to the 
statutes and constitutions, we are confronted by the use of 
the word " citizen " in a variety of senses. In an act of 1779 
it was declared that " all white persons born within this 

164 E. D. Neill, Virginia Carolorum, p. 330; see S. B. Weeks, " The 
History of Negro Suffrage in the South," in Political Science Quar 
terly, vol. ix, p. 671. 

155 Sainsbury Transcripts from the British Public Record Office, 
vol. i, p. 158. 

158 Constitution of 1776, art. 7; constitution of 1830; constitution 
of 1850. 


Commonwealth and all who have resided therein two years 
. . . shall be citizens of this Commonwealth." 157 This act 
was repealed and supplanted by an act of 1783 which de 
clared that " all free persons born within the territory of 
this commonwealth shall be deemed citizens of this com 
monwealth." 158 George Bancroft says that the treaty of 
peace between the American Commonwealths and Great 
Britain " as interpreted alike in America and England . . . 
included free negroes among the citizens." 159 In 1785 the 
General Assembly used the word in a sense which included 
free negroes in the citizen body. A bill being before the 
Assembly defining the part of the citizen body which should 
have the right to vote, and attention being called to the neces 
sity of excepting free negroes and mulattoes, the words 
" every male citizen " were changed to read " every male 
citizen other than free negroes or mulattoes." 160 Judge 
Tucker observed in 1796 that " emancipation does not confer 
the rights of citizenship on the person emancipated; on the 
contrary, both he and his posterity of the same complexion 
with himself must always labor under many civil inca 
pacities." 161 

If free negroes in Virginia were citizens in the meaning 
of the clause of the Federal Constitution which provides 
that " citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges 
and immunities of citizens of the several States," the con 
stitutional guaranty was of no practical value to the Vir 
ginia free negroes against discriminatory action of state gov 
ernments in whose domains they might attempt to travel or 
reside. " Citizens of the United States," said Chief Justice 
Taney in the Passenger Cases, 162 "must have the right to 
pass and repass through every part of it without interrup 
tion as freely as in [their] own States." In Crandall v. 

157 Hening, vol. x, p. 129. 

158 Ibid., vol. xi, p. 323 ; vol. xii, p. 263. 

159 History of United States, author s last version, vol. v, p. 579. 
- 80 House Journal, 1785, p. 96. 

, 161 St. G. Tucker, A Dissertation on Slavery, p. 75. 
162 7 Howard, 492. 


Nevada 163 the Court sustained this view, holding that the 
right to pass through a State by a citizen of the United 
States is one guaranteed to him by the Constitution. But 
throughout the first sixty-five years of the nineteenth cen 
tury every branch of the government of Virginia partici 
pated in making or enforcing restrictions upon the liberty 
of free negroes to move from place to place or to go from 
the State and return. When a bill was introduced in the 
Virginia legislature providing for the deportation of free 
negroes without their consent, the argument that it was un 
constitutional was feebly made, but General Brodnax, a 
leading member of the House, scoffing at the idea, asserted 
that the Constitution was about to be worn threadbare. " In 
truth," said he, " free negroes have many legal rights but no 
constitutional ones." There is no doubt that the opinion of 
the tribunals before whom the legal rights of free negroes 
were to be tested and applied was in agreement with this 

168 6 Wallace, 35- 


The three principal elements in the population of Virginia 
to which the free negro had to adjust himself were the 
whites, the native Indians, and the negro slaves. A discus 
sion of the social relations of the free negro class with each 
of these three other elements of the population of the State 
in the order named may well occupy a place of first consid 
eration in this chapter. 

If prejudices did not exist in the minds of the white in 
habitants of Virginia against persons of the black race be 
fore the coming of the negro, they were not long in spring 
ing up after the two races met on Virginia soil. From the 
very first mention by whites of Africans in Virginia special 
care was taken, in writing or in speaking of them, to des 
ignate their race or color. In the earliest records of the 
courts and the parishes they were carefully distinguished 
from other persons by such words and phrases as " negroes," 
" negro servants," and " a negro belonging to " such a one. 
As early as 1630 the conduct of a white man who had vio 
lated a rule of strict separation of the white and black races 
was denounced as an " abuse to the dishonor of God and 
shame of Christians," and in atonement for such conduct 
the white man received a sound whipping and was required 
to make a public apology. 1 In the case of a similar viola 
tion of decency and standards of race purity in 1640 the 
guilty white man was compelled to " do penance " in the 
church, and the negro woman was whipped. 2 So prominent 
and uncouth were the physiological characteristics and so 

1 Hening, vol. i, p. 146. 

2 Ibid., vol. i, p. 552. 



rude were the manners of the African emigrants that before 
the end of the seventeenth century many of the white colo 
nists came to regard them as not of the human kind. 3 

This prejudice against the negro was not the result of his 
servile station; for in that respect he was on a par with a 
large part of the white population. Freedom, therefore, 
was not sufficient to make a negro servant or a negro slave 
the social equal of the whites. By the middle of the seven 
teenth century there were negroes who were free from all 
forms of legal servitude or slavery, but they were not ab 
sorbed into the mass of free population. Their color ad 
hered to them in freedom as in servitude, and the indelible 
marks and characteristics of their race remained unchanged. 4 
In 1668 the law-making body of the colony gave unmistak 
able sanction to the exclusion of the free negroes from social 
equality in a declaration that " negro women set free, . . . 
although permitted to enjoy their freedom, yet ought not in 
all respects to be admitted to full fruition of the exemptions 
and impunities of the English." 5 

Yet, in spite of strong racial antipathies, there were some 
illicit relations between shameless white persons and ne 
groes, by reason of which it was deemed necessary as early 
as 1662 to enact legislation concerning the status of mulatto 
children. In 1691 a law prescribed for "any white woman 
marrying a negro or mulatto, bond or free," the extreme 
penalty of perpetual banishment. 6 The strength of public 
sentiment was soon tested in the matter of enforcing this 
law in the case of Ann Wall, an English woman, who was 
arraigned in the county court of Elizabeth City on the charge 
of " keeping company with a negro under pretense of mar 
riage." 7 Upon conviction, she and two of her mulatto chil- 

3 M. Godwyn, Negro s and Indian s Advocate, suing for their Ad 
mission into the Church, p. 23 et seq. 

4 Compare G. Bancroft, History of the United States, ed. 1843, vol. 
iii, p. 410. 

5 Hening, vol. ii, p. 267. 

6 Ibid., vol. iii, p. 87. 

7 MS. Court Records of Elizabeth City County, 1684-1699, p. 27, 
in Virginia State Library. In 1737 a negro who attempted to assault 
a white girl was compelled to stand in a pillory for an hour, was 


dren were bound for terms of service to a man living in 
Norfolk County, and a court order was recorded to the 
effect that in case she ever returned to Elizabeth City 
County she should be banished to the Barbadoes. 8 Whether 
the "abominable mixture or spurious issue," as the mulatto 
was called, was of slave or free negro parentage, it was 
equally detested by respectable white persons. 

In the seventeenth century there were a few free negroes 
of exceptional merit who were accorded, in all relations not 
involving or leading to a blending of the races, social privi 
leges about equal to those accorded to freed white servants. 
A few were prosperous owners of personal and real prop 
erty, respected by white persons, dealt with by white men 
in business relations, and permitted to participate in elec 
tions, facts which seem to indicate that for a while the 
prejudices of the white inhabitants against the negroes went 
only to the extent of preserving the Teutonic blood from 
contamination, and did not at first deny to the African free 
dom of opportunity to take such station in other relations 
as his individual merit enabled him to assume. At that 
time the theory that the negro was fit for nothing but slavery 
or some servile capacity had not been so carefully elaborated 
nor so generally applied as it was in the eighteenth and nine 
teenth centuries. Although precluded from the possibility 
of intermarrying with white persons, the negro freed from 
servitude or slavery had about the same industrial or eco 
nomic opportunities as the free white servant. But as 
slavery advanced toward a more complete inclusion and sub 
jection of the negro race in Virginia, the social and indus 
trial privileges of the free negro were gradually curtailed. 
The denial to him, by laws passed in 1723, of the right to 
vote, the right to bear arms, and the right to bear witness 
is proof of the fact that prejudice had extended beyond a 
demand for race separation and race purity to an imposition 
upon the negro of a low and servile station. 

"pelted by the populace, and afterwards smartly whipped" (Vir 
ginia Gazette, August 19-26, 1737; quoted in Virginia Magazine of 
History, vol. xi, p. 424). 
8 MS. Court Records of Elizabeth City County, 1684-1699, p. 83. 


From 1723 to the end of the colonial period the number 
of the free negroes was, both absolutely and relative to the 
other populations, so small that the social status of the class 
would have been unimportant except for the fact that preju 
dices accumulating in this period were handed down to the 
time when the free colored class became numerically impor 
tant. Except for natural procreation, the principal addi 
tions or recruits to this class throughout this period were 
the result of illegitimacy. There was no tendency to attrib 
ute to a few free negroes and mulattoes of such low origin 
any higher social standing than that occupied by more than 
ninety-nine per cent of their race and color. Too small and 
of too low an origin to preserve for itself, by the formation 
of an exclusive caste, higher social rights than slaves, the 
free colored class was nevertheless sufficiently large to pass 
on to the larger free negro class of the period of the Com 
monwealth all the disabilities and social disadvantages that 
it had gathered to itself for a hundred years. The freedom 
which masters were to be allowed to confer upon their slaves 
under the act of 1782 was the freedom of the colonial free 
negro and no more. Even those persons who professed a 
desire to apply to the slaves the principles of natural and 
equal rights had no intention or desire to exalt the manu 
mitted slave to social equality with the whites. Chastellux, 
travelling through Virginia in the early eighties of the eight 
eenth century, noticed the inferior social status of the free 
negroes, and wrote : " In the present case it is not only the 
slave who is beneath his master, it is the negro who is be 
neath the white man. No act of enfranchisement can efface 
this unfortunate distinction." 9 

The free negro population which came to be numbered 
by tens of thousands in the nineteenth century was as remote 
from a social plane upon which intermingling or intermar 
riage with the white race was possible as were the slaves. 
"A companion to slaves . . . forbidden to intermarry with 
whites or to bear testimony against them ; forbidden to learn 

9 Vol. ii, p. 99. 


to read or to write, or to preach the word of God even to 
his fellows, to bear arms or to resist assault in every rela 
tion from the cradle to the grave he was never allowed to 
forget that he was an inferior being." 10 Illegal marriages 
or associations of whites with free negroes were so disrepu 
table and disgraceful that they were entered into by the vilest 
white persons at the peril of chastisement by privately or 
ganized bands of white persons supported by community 
sentiment. 11 The free mulatto class, which numbered 23,500 
by 1860, was of course the result of illegal relations of white 
persons with negroes ; but, excepting those born of mulatto 
parents, most persons of the class were not born of free 
negro or free white mothers, but of slave mothers, and were 
set free because of their kinship to their master and owner. 12 

When we come to consider the social contact and affilia 
tion of the free negro with the native Indian, the barriers to 
social affinity and intermixing of races on terms of equality 
are seen to be less important than those between free negroes 
and whites. No law forbade the intermarriage of free ne 
groes and Indians, and there existed between them some 
fundamental grounds of sympathy and mutual appreciation. 
Both bore the marks of a savage race and had a colored 
skin; hence they shared the racial antipathy of the whites, 
although possibly to a different degree. Both were wanting 
in experience and acquaintance with the manners of civilized 
life, to which they were being introduced through the agency 
of an alien race. Both enjoyed liberty to go and come at 
will; but, unlike slaves, they were dependent upon their 
own resources for subsistence. Both were, in a way, misfits 
and discordant elements in a society organized as was that 
of Virginia, on a basis of slavery, a society economically 
and politically complete, with a governing white aristocracy 
and a class of colored toilers living in a condition of com- 

10 Message of Governor Smith, 1848-1849, in House Journal, p. 21. 
" MS. Petitions, Amelia County, 1821, A 781. 

12 MS. Petitions, King William County, 1825, BIIQI; Essex 
County, 1825, A 5396; Halifax County, 1857, A 7724. 


plete subjection. While there existed dissimilarities be 
tween free negroes and Indians, there was certainly a com 
mon bond of union ; and it is significant that in the massacre 
of 1622 not an African perished at the hands of the Indians, 
although there were at the time of the massacre more than 
twenty negroes scattered throughout the little colony. 13 

Before 1724 there were in the colony some persons of 
mixed blood, part negro and part Indian, called mustees or 
mustizos. 14 A number of reservations of land, containing 
from a few hundred to many thousand acres, were set apart in 
the eastern section of Virginia in the seventeenth and eight 
eenth centuries for the use and enjoyment of the Indians. 15 
After a time, these reservations became the common homes 
of free negroes and the tribesmen for whom they were in 
tended, who associated on terms of social equality. It was 
said in 1787 of the inhabitants of the Gingaskin reservation 16 
that those who were not entirely black had at least "half 
black blood in them." 17 The place was called Indian Town, 
but many of the squaws had negroes for husbands, and 
Indian braves lived with black wives. As a means of im 
proving the social order in Indian Town, the white people 
thereabouts proposed that no negroes, except the husbands 
of female Indians, be allowed to remain in the tribe. The 
town, they said, afforded " a Harbour and convenient asy 
lum to an idle set of free negroes," and was a great nuisance 
to the public. 18 

In 1744 the Nottaway and kindred tribes possessed about 

"McDonald Transcripts from the British Public Record Office, 
vol. i, p. 46; Hotten, pp. 218-258; Colonial Records of Virginia, 
Senate Document, 1874, Extra, p. 61. 

" " Such as are born of an Indian and negro are called Mustees " 
(H. Jones, The Present State of Virginia, p. 37). 

19 Hening, vol. ii, p. 290; P. A. Bruce, Economic History, vol. i, 
p. 492 et seq. ; vol. ii, p. 115. 

16 See Hening, vol. viii, p. 414, for facts concerning this reservation 
in Northampton County. In 1769 it contained six hundred acres. 
The legislature then passed an ordinance providing for the sale of 
two hundred acres of this land, the proceeds to be used by the par 
ish to provide for such of the tribe as should become public charges. 
Compare Hening, vol. ii, p. 13; vol. iii, p. 85. 

"MS. Petitions, Norfolk County, 1787, 64865. 

18 Ibid., 1782, B 4865 ; 1782, B 4845. 


20,000 acres of land which they could not, according to law, 
alienate. 19 In 1821 they still occupied 3370 acres. White 
persons in the vicinity of this reservation affirmed in 1821 
that "their [the Indians ] wives and husbands are free ne 
groes," 20 and that they had neither prudence nor economy. 

As late as 1843 tne Pamunkeys possessed sixteen hun 
dred acres of land in King William County. One hundred 
and forty-three citizens of the county petitioned the legisla 
ture to have the lands divided, saying that all but a small 
remnant of the old Indian tribe was extinct, and that in its 
place were free mulattoes, all of whom were believed to have 
one fourth negro blood, an amount sufficient under the 
provisions of the code of 1819 to class them as mulattoes. 21 
" They are so mingled with the negro race as to have oblit 
erated all striking features of Indian extraction. It is the 
general resort of free negroes from all parts of the country." 22 

The association and intermarriage of free negroes with 
Indians was not confined to areas given up to Indians. From 
an early date mustees were a small constituent element of 
the population, intermingling with the other inhabitants of 
the colony. 23 John Dungie, an Indian of King William 
County, was in 1824 legally married to Anne Littlepage, a 
mulatto daughter of Edmund Littlepage, esq., a man of con 
siderable wealth. "The husband was a sailor . . . con 
stantly employed in the navigation of the Chesapeake Bay 
and Rivers of Virginia." His free mulatto wife was heir 
to a considerable annuity. 24 In a case before the supreme 

19 Hening, vol v, p. 270. 

20 MS. Petitions, York County, 1821. 

Hening, vol. xiv, p. 123; i Revised Code, 423. 

22 MS. Petitions, King William County, 1843, 61207. Petition 
B 1208 is a counter-petition from the chief men of the tribe, who 
wish to retain their lands. They admit that some persons not of 
their tribe are within their boundaries, but claim that the inhabi 
tants generally are of at least half Indian extraction. That mem 
bers of the Pamunkey tribe to this day (1912) bear in their features 
evidences of a mixture of the tribe with negroes may be stated 
on the authority of a prominent citizen of Richmond who has 
observed them. 

23 Jones, p. 37. 

24 MS. Petitions, King William County, 1825, B 1191. 



court of appeals in 1831 we find an attorney making the 
assertion as an historical fact that Indians had intermarried 
with negroes. 25 

The names " mustizo " or " mustee " and " mulatto " were 
not always applied with discrimination, the latter being 
often used where the former should have been applied. 26 In 
the censuses no separate enumeration is made of the mus- 
tees, but there is no doubt that a considerable element in 
the free colored population of the nineteenth century was 
of Indian extraction. 

The most congenial companion pf the free negro outside 
of his own class was found among his kinsmen in bondage. 
The larger part of the free negro class met and mingled 
with negro slaves on a plane of almost perfect social equal 
ity. 27 Prior to 1782 the fact that the free colored persons 
were few in number would have been sufficient to prevent 
the formation of an exclusive caste had there been differ 
ences between free and slave negroes so radical as to render 
conditions favorable for such a development. Even when 
their numbers became sufficiently large for the formation of 
an exclusive caste, there were absent those differences in 
economic and political station to make it desirable either for 
the free negro or the slave class to exclude the other from 
its social life, the freedom of the free negro being in most 
lines of activity only nominal. There were lacking to the 
free negro the better education, the higher standard of 
wants, and the better opportunities for acquiring wealth and 
position necessary to supply an actual basis of superiority 
and to give him higher social rank than that occupied by 
the slave. 

25 Gregory v. Baugh, 2. Leigh, 665; cf. also Jenkins v. Tom, I 
Hening and Munford, 123; T. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Vir 
ginia, ed. 1801, p. 182. 

26 Virginia Gazette, December i, 1782. A reward is offered for a 
runaway slave who, according to the description, was the offspring 
of an Indian and a negress; but he is called a mulatto. 

"The free negroes continue to live with the negro slaves, and 
never with the white man" (Chastellux, vol. ii, p. 199). 


Had it been possible for the free negro to hold himself 
aloof from the slaves, he might have borne a better reputa 
tion among slave owners ; for, as will appear later, his con 
nection and his relation with slaves rendered him the object 
of much undeserved suspicion and criticism. To the slaves 
themselves the free negro was a welcome visitor ; at feasts, 
barbacues, dances, and negro meetings of every kind he was 
present to participate on a plane of equality with his slave 
neighbors. While very few would have exchanged this 
condition for that of the slave, they rarely ever regarded 
slavery as the badge of a rank inferior to their own. 

It was very common in the nineteenth century and the 
twenty years immediately preceding for free negroes to 
marry slaves. Numerous instances can be cited of mar 
riages of free negro women with slave men. A case oc 
curred in Brock County in i826. 28 A free negress by the 
name of Rachel married a slave in Alleghany County in 
i828. 29 Dilly, a free negro woman of Giles County, was 
married to a slave husband by whom she had two children. 30 
Similar examples may be found in almost any county. 31 

Since the status of the mother became the status of the 
offspring, it might be supposed that free colored women 
would have had less aversion to choosing slave husbands 
than free colored men would have had to marrying slave 
wives, but that does not appear to have been the case. 
Numerous examples might be cited to show that the prospect 
of having children who would be slaves did not deter free 
negro men from marrying slave wives. Rice Stephens, a 
freeborn negro, was living in Northampton County in 1843 
with a slave wife and three children. 32 Samuel Johnson, a 

28 MS. Petitions, Brock County, A 2684. 

29 MS. Petitions, Alleghany County, A 651. 

30 MS. Petitions, Giles County, 1829, A 6784. 

31 MS. Petitions, Goochland County, 1840, A 7109. According to 
the story of Mary Winston, a free negro woman of Hanover County 
still living (1909), her grandmother and great-grandmother married 

32 MS. Petitions, Northampton County, 64905. 



free negro of Fauquier County, had a slave daughter who 
became the wife of a free negro. 33 

Indeed, it is apparent that there were not a few free ne 
groes who preferred a slave to a free wife. Certainly there 
was less responsibility upon a husband whose wife and chil 
dren were slaves and were therefore supported by their 
white owners than upon one whose wife and children had to 
be provided for by himself. "A freeman," says a pro- 
slavery editor in 1802, "as soon as he is his own master, 
marries the female slave of some farmer. He cannot well 
be prevented from residing with his wife. She feeds him 
gratis."** This was the opinion also of a later pamphlet 
writer who wrote under the pseudonym of " Calx." " Every 
male free negro," he wrote, "prefers to have a slave wife, 
and will be so provided, if permitted by too careless indul 
gence. In this manner he will not only have his wife and 
children supported by the owner, and a lodging provided for 
himself, but much of his own food will be obtained from his 
wife and, directly or indirectly, to the loss of her master." 35 

In addition to the temptation to free colored men to select 
wives who were sure of support, and who might even partly 
support their husbands, there was after 1806 another reason 
why some free negroes might have considered themselves 
fortunate to be connected by marriage with a slave woman. 
Such a family connection often prevented a free negro man 
umitted after 1806 from having to leave the State, according 
to law, within twelve months from the date of his manu 
mission. If such a free negro husband comported himself 
well and made a useful laborer in the community, he was 
sure to have the good will of his wife s master, to whose 
interest it was to keep his slaves contented in their place. 
If the free husband stayed in the community, his presence 
would not only be a guaranty against his slave family mak 
ing trouble for their master by becoming runaways, but he 
himself might also become a useful employee of his wife s 

33 MS. Petitions, Fauquier County, 1837, A 5859. 

34 Richmond Recorder, November 10, 1802. 

35 " Calx," p. 5 et seq. 


master. If he was forced to leave, he immediately endan 
gered the interest of the master by establishing himself in a 
border State and inducing his wife and children to join him. 
Many a free negro petitioning the legislature for permission 
to remain in the State made a special point of the fact that 
his wife and children were slaves. 36 Many slave-owners 
endorsed their petitions, and joined in asking the legislature 
to grant the privilege asked for. Particularly was it true 
in counties bordering on Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and 
Kentucky that the slave-owners realized and were frank to 
admit that a free negro, though not desirable on his own 
part, was more desirable in Virginia than in a border county 
of an adjoining State. 37 

There is, however, nothing in the facts above stated, nor 
in truth in any authentic evidence thus far examined, to 
give support to the contention frequently made by slavery 
apologists in the nineteenth century, and to this day not in 
frequently repeated, that slaves generally regarded free ne 
groes as of inferior social rank. The negro " aristocracy," 
if such there was, was not based on the superiority of slaves 
over the free negroes, but on the superiority of the wealthy 
planter s " servants " over the " poor man s nigger." 38 Thomas 
Bruce, writing in 1891 concerning the happy state of slavery, 
said : " As a class, happier beings never existed, and they 
had a most unbounded contempt for a free negro . . . and 
shunned him as they would a leper, and even to this day 
that prejudice still exists in the minds of the negro who can 
recall the days of slavery." 39 Ellen Glasgow, in her novel 
entitled "The Battle-Ground," depicts Free Levi as a free 

86 House Journal, 1832-1833, p. 201. 

87 Writing to the legislature to ask that a certain free negro be 
permitted to remain in the State, fifty-five slave-owners of Harrison 
County say : " He will take up his residence in the nearest point in 
Pennsylvania or Ohio and of course will make occasional visits to 
his family, and from the clamor which is going on in those states 
upon the subject of abolition we judge that we should have more 
to fear from that source than from his being permitted to remain 
among us" (MS. Petitions, Harrison County, 1839, A 8677; se$ also 
MS. Petitions, Cumberland County, 1815, A 4728). 

38 A. Bagby, King and Queen County, p. 283. 

88 T. Bruce, Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, p. 46. 


colored man " who shares alike the pity of his white neigh 
bors and the withering contempt of his black ones." 40 If 
there is a basis of truth which gave rise to this mistaken 
belief here and elsewhere expressed, it is in the fact that 
slave-owners disapproved of the association of their slaves 
with free negroes, whom they suspected of scattering seeds 
of discontent in slave quarters. The master of slaves did 
indeed have a withering contempt for free negroes, but one 
of the reasons for such a feeling was the realization that his 
slaves might readily emulate the superior privileges of free 
dom as exemplified in the free negro. The slaves, being 
generally of a docile, tractable disposition, may have pre 
tended to regard free negroes as their inferiors, but their 
" unbounded contempt " was merely an echo. 41 

From one source, however, there sprang up in slaves a 
certain dislike of free negroes with whom they were required 
to work, but the feeling was quite different from contempt. 
When free negroes were employed to work for wages with 
slaves, as they often were, 42 and to do no harder work than 
the slaves, the slaves were sometimes envious of the free 
negroes because of the superior privileges of the latter in 
the way of recompense. Such dislike for the free negroes 
on the part of slaves was envious dislike for a superior 
rather than contemptuous dislike for an inferior. 43 

40 P. 148. 

"William Dunston, slave of John R. Dunston, of Accomac 
County, married a free negress whose name was Jane Jubilee. In 
this instance it required not a little determination and self-will for 
the slave to follow his suit to victory; for he was constantly met 
by his master s reproachful queries : " Bill, would you marry into 
that family of Jubilees? They are free negroes." This incident, 
related to the author by C. C. James, of Northampton County, illus 
trates the way in which masters tried to create in their slaves a 
dislike for free negroes. 

42 " They [free negroes] are sometimes hired for field labour in 
times of harvest and on other particular occasions" (Madison s 
Writings, vol. iii, pp. 310-315). 

43 William E. Waddy, esq., of Eastville, Virginia, born in 1827, and 
familiar with the facts concerning the relation of free negroes and 
slaves from his boyhood to the close of the Civil War, vividly re 
calls that a distaste for working with free negro hired laborers was 
often manifested by slaves. He was unaware, however, of the ex 
istence among slaves owned or observed by him of a feeling of 
social superiority over free negroes. 


The acknowledgment repeatedly made by the enemies of 
the free negro is alone sufficient to controvert the traditional 
belief that slaves considered themselves in a superior station 
or social rank to that of the free negroes. The latter were 
spoken of as "possible chieftains of formidable conspira 
cies," and " leaders " in servile outbreaks. 44 Mr. Moore, 
in the slavery debate of 1832, said, " I lay it down as a 
maxim not to be disputed, that our slaves, like all the rest 
of the human race, are now and will continue to be actuated 
by a desire of liberty." 43 This assumption was constantly 
made by both antislavery and proslavery advocates, and par 
ticularly by that portion of the latter class who regarded the 
presence of the free negroes as a source of danger to the 
institution of slavery as well as a menace to the discipline 
and control of slaves. Antebellum free negroes and their 
descendants still living are very proud to relate facts con 
cerning their free ancestry; and while the most reliable of 
the survivors of this class admit that many free negroes 
were on no higher plane than slaves, they hold to the view 
that many of the better class of free negroes considered 
themselves socially superior to any slave. This must indeed 
have been true of the free negroes who owned considerable 
property, or owned or hired negro slaves and servants, as 
did a few in the seventeenth century and many in the nine 
teenth. It was certainly true of some free mulattoes whb 
because of their white connections had received special op 
portunities for education and an independent support. 46 

Whether a free negro was to be married to a free person 
or to a slave, who was legally incapable of making a con- 

44 Richmond Enquirer, January 18, 1805. 
5 Ibid., January 19, 1832. 

49 In 1857 eight quadroon children belonging to Craddock Vaughn 
of Halifax County made petition to the legislature for permission 
to reside in the State notwithstanding the law of 1806, which ap 
plied to them. The petitioners affirmed that they had had every 
care in bringing up, and that they were " beyond the sphere of the 
free negro class so degraded" (MS. Petitions, Halifax County, 
1857, A 7724). See also MS. Petitions, King William County, 1825, 
B 1191; Alleghany County, 1828, A 651; Halifax County, 1783, A 


tract, 47 legal forms were adhered to, and the nuptial cere 
monies observed by white persons were imitated. White 
ministers officiated at weddings of all classes of colored per 
sons. Free colored candidates for matrimony obtained li- 
censes just as did white persons, and often procured the 
parlor of a white family as a place for the ceremony. A 
glance at the records of marriages by the ministers of Hen- 
rico parish from 1823 to 1860 will reveal numerous instances 
of marriages of free colored persons and a few of marriages 
of free negroes with slaves. 48 Of six marriages solemnized 
by Rev. Edward Peet in 1831 one was the union of free 
colored persons ; and of sixteen persons married by the same 
minister in 1832, four were free colored. In 1829 Rev. W. 
F. Lee married eight white and two free colored persons; 
in 1833 the record was the same as in 1829; in 1834 he 
married ten white and two free colored couples ; and in 
1846, four white couples and one free colored couple. 49 

In the seventeenth century and the part of the eighteenth 
when the free negro class was so small as to be numbered 
in hundreds there were to be found examples of well regu 
lated, orderly families, appreciative of the sanctity of the 
family relations, in which both parents were free colored. 
The Northampton County records show a few examples as 
early as i655- 50 The parish registers of the eighteenth cen 
tury contain numerous examples of free colored parents 

"It is agreed that slaves have no power [of contract]. Hence 
the marriages of slaves are void" (Minor, vol. i, p. 168). 

48 L. W. Burton, Annals of Henrico Parish, pp. 236-248. For 
instances of marriages of free with slave negroes, see p. 247 : 
" Morris Harris a free colored man, to Patience, a servant to Mrs. 
Mary E. Robinson, by Rev. H. S. Kepler, 1855." " Servant " in this 
register was a euphonious designation for " slave." The entries con 
cerning the marriage of a free colored man with a free colored 
woman uniformly stated that both were free, as : " Ned lightfoot and 
Sophy Buck, both free people of color. License bearing date as 
above." By Rev. W. M. Hart : " Aug. 16, 1825, John Jarvis, a free 
man of color, and Lucy Marble, a free woman of color. License 
bearing date Henrico Court, Aug. 1825." For another example, see 
p. 248. 

49 Burton, pp. 236-244. 

W MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1651-1654, pp. 28, 


whose children were regularly baptized into the church. 51 
When toward the latter part of the eighteenth century and on 
to the end of the antebellum period the free colored popula 
tion came to be numbered by tens of thousands, numerous 
examples of respectable free colored families are to be 
found. On a petition signed by ninety free colored persons 
of Richmond in 1823 there were nineteen families repre 
sented by the names of both husband and wife. 52 It was 
thought that a rather large proportion of free colored fe 
males, particularly free mulattoes, were unchaste. 53 How 
ever this may have been, there is ample documentary evi 
dence to show that in the nineteenth century there was a 
certain large class of the free colored population the mem 
bers of which were respectable and observant of decency 
and regularity in their family relations. 54 

Throughout the period of the colony when the number of 
free negroes was comparatively small, and even in the 
nineteenth century before the time of the active propagation 
of antislavery doctrines, there existed little if any prejudice 
against the education of free colored persons. In the third 
quarter of the seventeenth century there was opposition to 
offering baptism to negro slaves until it was determined by 
law that the administration of the baptismal rite did not 
bestow freedom. 55 This objection did not apply, however, 
to the religious instruction of free negroes or negro appren 
tices. Before the middle of the seventeenth century pro 
vision was made by certain white persons for guaranteeing 
religious instruction and education to negro servants who 
would eventually become free. 56 In 1654, when Richard 

51 Bruton Parish Register, p. 57 ff. Original copy, Bruton Church, 

52 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1823, A 9335. 
63 "Calx," pp. 5-11. 

M Cf. MS. Petitions, Accomac County, A 42. 

M Hening, vol. ii, p. 260; Godwyn, p. II ff. 

66 General Court Records, printed in Virginia Magazine of His 
tory, vol. xi, p. 281,; MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 
1645-1651, p. 82. 


Vaughan freed his negroes, he provided in his will that they 
should be taught to read and to make their own clothes, and 
that they should be brought up in the fear of God. 57 

In colonial times the Anglican church did a great deal to 
provide for the religious instruction and baptism of the free 
colored class. The reports made in 1724 to the English 
bishop by the Virginia parish ministers are evidence that the 
few free negroes in the parishes were permitted to be bap 
tized, and were received into the church when they had been 
taught the catechism. 58 It had been a practice of the seven 
teenth century to stipulate in the indenture or contract by 
which a free negro was apprenticed to a master that the 
master, in return for the negro s service, must provide in 
struction in the Christian religion in addition to sufficient 
food, apparel, and lodging. 59 In 1691 the church became the 
agency through which the laws of negro apprenticeship 
were carried out. 60 Free mulatto children born of white 
mothers and any free colored boy or girl without visible 
means of support were bound by the churchwardens to serve 
white men for a certain term of years. The custom of the 
churchwardens of requiring these masters to provide some 
degree of education for the colored apprentices remained in 
vogue throughout the colonial period, as is shown by numer 
ous orders of the vestry meetings and orders of the county 
courts for binding out free colored children. For example, 
in 1727 it was ordered that David James, a free negro boy, 
be bound to Mr. James Isdel, " who is to teach him to read 
ye bible distinctly also ye trade of a gunsmith that he carry 

01 MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1654-1655, pp. 102, 

58 Papers Relating to the History of the Church: Westminster 
parish, p. 261 ; Lawn s Creek parish, p. 289. 

"The church is open to them all" (Report of the minister in 
Isle of Wight County, in Papers Relating to the History of the 
Church, p. 274). As a means of encouraging baptism of negro 
children, a proposition was made to exempt from taxation for four 
years any negro or mulatto child baptized (ibid., p. 344). 

59 See an indenture to this effect executed by Francis Pott in 
1646, in MS. Court Records of Northampton County, 1645-1651, p. 82. 

60 Hening, vol. iii, p. 87. v 


him to ye Clark s office & take Indenture to that purpose." 61 
By the Warwick County court it was " ordered that Malacai, 
a mulatto boy, son of mulatto Betty be, by the church war 
dens of this Parish, bound to Thomas Hobday to learn the 
art of a planter according to law." 62 By the order of the 
Norfolk County court, about 1770, a free negro was bound 
out " to learn the trade of a tanner." 03 After 1785 the duty 
of binding out free colored children was placed upon the 
overseers of the poor, who required of the masters, accord 
ing to the laws and the custom, an agreement to teach the 
apprentice reading, writing, and arithmetic. 64 

In the period between the Revolutionary War and the be 
ginning of the nineteenth century there were two religious 
societies that were very active in teaching and offering reli 
gious instruction to the free negroes, namely, the Quakers 
and the Methodists. 65 The Quakers set free no inconsider 
able part of the slaves manumitted in this period, and the 
various meetings took official action to see that negroes set 
free by their members were taught and Christianized. 66 It 
was in accordance with the advice of the yearly and quarterly 
meetings of Friends that the monthly meetings extended 
"a watchful care over those negroes ... set free within 
the verge of the monthly meeting, administering counsel and 
advice particularly to those in their minority " and render 
ing them temporal and spiritual assistance. 67 In 1781 a 

61 From the court records of Princess Anne County, cited in Vir 
ginia Magazine of History, vol. ii, p. 429. See also MS. Minutes of 
Northampton County, 1754-1757, p. 100. 

63 MS. Minutes of Warwick County, 1748-1762, p. 30, in Virginia 
State Library. 

63 MS. Orders of Norfolk County, 1768-1771, pp. 232-233. See 
also ibid., pp. n, 91; Vestry Book of Saint Peter s Parish, p. 135: 
an order, 1771; Register of St. Peter s Parish, p. 117. 

"Herring, vol. viii, pp. 376-377; vol. xii, pp. 28, 29; vol. xvi, p. 124. 

63 The friendship of the Quakers and the Methodists for the negro 
was mentioned by Randolph in the Federal Convention at Philadel 
phia, 1787 (Papers of James Madison, ed. by Gilpin, vol. iii, p. 1396). 

c<i MS. Minutes of the Hopewell Monthly Meeting, 1777-1791, p. 

6T MS. Minutes of the Fairfax Monthly Meeting, 1776-1802, p. 
105 (1776), pp. no, 243 (1/82) ; MS. Minutes and Proceedings of 
Goose Creek Monthly Meeting, 1785-1818, p. 533. 


committee of Friends appointed by the Warrenton and 
Fairfax Quarterly Meeting " to have under their Care and 
labour to promote the Education and religious Instruction 
of such negroes as have been set free" reported that a a 
good degree of care and labor had been extended, and that 
there still remained other work along the same line that 
must be done." 68 The Methodists were likewise mindful of 
the spiritual welfare of the negroes, whether free or slave, 
and were so active in the advocacy of the cause of freedom 
that they were denied by many slave-owners the opportunity 
of instructing slaves; 69 but they continued to offer private 
instruction to free negroes, and to slaves when opportunity 
was afforded. 70 Besides Quakers and Methodists, there 
were smaller religious societies, such as Moravians, Har- 
monites, and Shakers, who, besides giving the negroes reli 
gious instruction, taught them many useful industries, and 
even worked with them in creating a common property. 71 

After the fears of the slave-owners were aroused by the 
Gabriel insurrection in 1800 and by rumors of a general out 
break, it was thought desirable to curtail the opportunities 
of the free negroes for acquiring a knowledge of books 
which might render them propagators of seditious anti- 
slavery doctrines among the slaves ; hence the overseers of 
the poor were commanded by legislative authority to cease 
requiring the master or mistress to whom a free negro or 
mulatto child was apprenticed to teach the child reading, 
writing, and arithmetic, as had hitherto been the custom. 72 

68 MS. Minutes of Warrenton and Fairfax Quarterly Meeting, 
1776-1787, p. 123. 

69 Journal of the Rev. Francis Asbury, vol. ii, p. 71 ; vol. iii, pp. 253, 
257 ; Bennett, p. 547. 

"What directions shall we give for the promotion of the spir 
itual welfare of the colored people? 

" We conjure all our ministers and preachers ... to leave nothing 
undone for the spiritual benefit and salvation of them . . . and to 
unite in Society those who appear to have a real desire of fleeing 
from the wrath to come; to meet such in class and to exercise the 
whole Methodist discipline among them" (Annual Minutes, 1787, 
quoted from H. N. McTyeire, History of Methodism, p. 381). 

71 Madison s Writings, vol. iii, pp. 495, 497. 

72 Hening, vol. xvi, p. 124. 


A more rigorous enforcement of the laws against unlawful 
assemblages of slaves further discouraged efforts to give 
instruction to negroes, bond or free. Quakers were prose 
cuted in court for assembling negroes for instruction in their 
meeting-houses. 73 Probably owing to discouragement thus 
received and to some relaxation of their former zeal due to 
other causes, the Friends were not so active in behalf of the 
negro in Virginia as they had been in the eighteenth century, 
although they continued to hold a prominent place among 
his sympathizers and helpers. In 1816 a committee ap 
pointed by the Goose Creek Monthly Meeting to inquire 
into the opportunities for education afforded African chil 
dren in the homes of Friends reported that "only two in 
stances were found of colored children suitably provided 
for, and opportunity afforded them of acquiring useful 
school learning." 74 

In the nineteenth century the Baptist Church, by a less 
bold assertion of views in opposition to slavery than those 
advanced by Methodists, avoided the hostility of the slave 
owners which fell to the share of the Methodists, and thus 
gained the larger share of negro evangelization. 75 Even 
when the laws discouraged negro education, the Baptists 
did much toward instructing free negroes privately and in 
Sunday schools, 78 and received them into their churches. 77 
In churches where colored persons attended in considerable 
numbers a section of the pews was set aside for their use, 
and at all times a strict observance of the color line seems 
to have prevailed. The condition of the free colored people 
before 1831 as regards religious and educational advantages 
is so well shown by a petition to the legislature in 1823 of 

"See E. Woods, Albemarle County, in Virginia, p. in, for in 
stances of indictments of Friends for unlawfully assembling slaves. 

74 MS. Minutes of Goose Creek Monthly Meeting, 1785-1818, p. 

75 In 1835 Professor E. A. Andrews wrote a letter from Fredericks- 
burg saying that the " religious instruction [of the free negroes] has 
fallen, in a great measure into the hands of the Baptists, as in Balti 
more it is conducted by the Methodists" (Slavery and the Domestic 
Slave Trade in the United States, p. 162). 

76 Cf The Liberator, July 4 1845. 

"MS. Petitions, Floyd County, 1836, A 6081. 


ninety-one free negroes of Richmond that the document is 
worth reproducing in full: 

The petition of a number of persons of colour residing in the 
City of Richmond, respectfully represents : that from the rapid in 
crease of population in the City, the number of free persons of col 
our and slaves has become very considerable and although few of 
them can boast any knowledge of letters, yet that they are always 
desirous of receiving such instruction from public and divine wor 
ship as may be given by sensible and prudent Teachers of religion. 

It has been the misfortune of your petitioners to be excluded from 
the churches, meeting-houses and other places of public devotion 
which are used by white persons in consequence of no appropriate 
places being assigned for them, except in a few Houses, and they 
have been compelled to look to private Houses, where they are 
much crowded and where a portion of their Brothers are unable to 
hear or to partake of the worship which is going on. Your Peti 
tioners consisting of free persons and slaves, have been for some 
time associated with the Baptist church. A list of their members 
consisting of about 700 persons has been submitted for his inspec 
tion to the Head of Police of this City and no objection has been 
by him made to their moral characters. 

Your Petitioners for these reasons humbly pray that your honour 
able body will pass a law authorizing them to cause to be erected 
within this city a house of public worship which may be called the 
Baptist African Church. To such restrictions and restraints as are 
consistent with the laws now existing or which may hereafter be 
passed for the proper restraint of persons of colour and for the 
preservation of the peace and good order of society . . . your peti 
tioners are prepared most cheerfully to submit, and although it would 
be pleasing to them to have a voice in the choice of their Teachers 
yet would they be quite satisfied that any choice made by them should 
be approved or rejected by the Mayor of this city, they ask not 
for the privilege of continuing in office any preacher who shall in 
any manner have rendered himself obnoxious to the Mayor, nor can 
they reasonably expect to hold night meetings or assemblages for 
Baptizing but with the consent of that officer. And your Petition 
ers as in duty bound will ever pray. . . , 78 

78 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1823, A 9335. Affixed to this 
petition were the following names of free colored persons of Rich 
mond and the mayor s certificate, as follows : 

" I hereby certify that I have examined the list of signatures of 
free persons of colour hereunto attached and believe them to be 

" I am of opinion that the prayers of their petition, if granted, may 
be productive of benefit to themselves as well as to the white pop 
ulation of Richmond and most sincerely wish them success. 

Mayor of the City of Richmond. 

Free persons of colour of the City of Richmond of the Baptist 
denomination : 

Richard Dye, Hembrey Tompkins, 

Teanah Dye, Mary Tompkins, 


Although it appears that the bill introduced in the House 
of Delegates granting the privileges asked for in this peti 
tion was lost, the negroes were enabled by some means to 
erect church houses for their use. There were three African 
Baptist churches and two African Methodist churches in 
Richmond in the decade before the Civil War. 79 

When the agitation for the abolition of slavery became 
acute and antislavery tracts and pamphlets were in wide cir 
culation in the State, the friends of the institution of slavery 
became apprehensive of the evil which might result from 
the reading of such literature by free negroes, and in conse 
quence brought about legislation to prevent free negroes 
from acquiring a knowledge of books. 79 * The proximate 
cause of legislative action was probably the discovery in 
1830 by the mayor of Richmond of a copy of Walker s Ap 
peal to the Colored Citizens of the World in the house of a 
free negro after his death. 80 By an act of April 7, 1831, "all 

William Caswell, Nancy Ellis, 

Robert Dandridge, Phillip Robenson, 

Martha Dandridge, Richard Vaughan, 

Thomas Mondowney, Agness Vaughan, 

Catherine Mondowney, John Harper, 

Exland Henderson, Caesar Hawkins, 

P. Wm. Reynolds, Fanny Hawkins, 

Sarah Reynolds, James Greenhow, 

Isaac Vines, Alice Greenhow, 

Nicholaus Scott, Minis Hill, 

Betsy Scott, Cas Hill, 

Mary Barges, Isaac Reynals, 

David Bowles, Billy Swann, 

Susan Bowles, Aley Swann, 

Joseph Bell, Edwd. Lightford, 

John Peters, Edward Casey, 

Agness Peters, Nanney Casey, 

Douglass Tinsley, Wilson Morris, 

John Green, Fanney Drummond, 

Isham Ellis, Pleasants Price, 

and 47 others, with certificates and endorsements by Joseph Price, 
master of police, and seven other prominent white men of the city. 
79 Richmond Directory, 1852, p. 165 ; 1856 passim. 
9a In his message to the legislature Governor Floyd asserted that 
the free negroes had helped to stir up revolt, and had " opened more 
enlarged views," and that inasmuch as they were allowed to go at 
liberty they could " distribute incendiary pamphlets and papers " 
(House Journal, 1831-1832, p. 10). 

* Richmond Enquirer, January 28, 1830. Cf . J. B. McMaster, 
History of the People of the United States, vol. vi, p. 70. 


meetings of free negroes or mulattoes at any school-house 
or other place for teaching them reading or writing, either 
in the day or night, under whatever pretext," were declared 
to be unlawful assemblies. Any justice either of his own 
knowledge or on information of others could issue his war 
rant to an officer authorizing him to enter the house and 
arrest or disperse the offending free negroes and to inflict 
upon them, at the discretion of a justice of the peace, cor 
poral punishment not exceeding thirty-nine lashes. If a 
white person attempted to teach free negroes for pay, he 
was liable to a fine of fifty dollars and imprisonment. 81 
After " Brother " Nat Turner s insurrection the ban was put 
upon negro preachers and teachers by an act declaring it 
unlawful for negroes, whether ordained or licensed or other 
wise, to preach, exhort, or conduct any meeting for reli 
gious or other purposes. 82 In the revision of this law in 
1842 it was declared that "every assemblage of negroes for 
the purpose of religious worship, when such worship is con 
ducted by a negro, and every assemblage of negroes for 
the purpose of instruction in reading and writing, or in the 
night time for any purpose, shall be deemed an unlawful 
assembly." 83 Some free colored persons who possessed 
sufficient means began sending their children to the North 
to be educated; but in 1838 all such efforts were forestalled 
by an act declaring that any free person of color who should 
go beyond the State for education should be considered to 
have emigrated. 84 This was equivalent to a declaration that 
no free negro going out of the State for education should 
return. It was apparently in anticipation of this act for 
bidding Virginia free negroes to seek education in the North 
that sixteen free negroes of Fredericksburg, all of whom 
possessed considerable property, petitioned the Virginia leg- 

81 Acts, 1830-1831, p. 107; Supplement to Revised Code, 244-245. 

82 Acts, 1831-1832, p. 20; Supplement to Revised Code, 246-247. 
In 1834 ten free negroes of Richmond complained in a petition to 
the legislature that the consequence of this law was that many 
colored human beings were interred like brutes, their friends and rel 
atives being unable to procure the usual ceremony in the burial of 
the dead (MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1834, A 9483). 

88 Acts, 1840-1842, p. 21 ; 1847-1848, p. 120; Code (1860), 810-811. 
84 Acts, 1838, p. 76; Hurd, vol. ii, p. 10; Acts, 1847-1848, p. 119. 


islature in 1838 for the privilege of establishing a school 
for free colored children in their city. 85 They complained 
of the inconvenience of sending their children to the North 
for education, and very tactfully added that they preferred 
not to send them where " they imbibe bad doctrines." The 
legislature refused them the right to establish the school, 88 
and attended in its own way to the danger of imbibing bad 
doctrines by withdrawing from free negroes even the privi 
lege of educating their children beyond the limits of the 
State. From 1838 to the close of the Civil War the only 
educational advantage that could lawfully be given to the 
free negroes was strictly private instruction. Rarely and 
with difficulty did some free colored families procure white 
persons to teach their children privately. 87 

In view of the difficulties to be met by free colored persons 
in the pursuit of learning, the discovery of a high percentage 
of illiteracy in that class of the population occasions no sur 
prise. " Calx," writing in the later fifties, observed that 
"the free negroes, as a class, are ignorant." 88 There were, 
however, in 1850 a little above one free negro in six who 
could read and write. In the white population of the State 
a little more than eleven out of twelve were literate. In 
other words, about eighty per cent of the free colored popu 
lation throughout the State was illiterate, as compared with 
eight per cent, in the white population. 89 Quite generally 
throughout the entire period of two and a half centuries 
under review free negroes and mulattoes could merely make 
their marks in affixing their signatures to records of legal 
or business transactions. 

In the fifty years before 1861 it was the practice of persons 

"MS. Petitions, Spottsylvania County, 1838. 
88 House Journal, 1837-1838, p. 248. 

87 Upon the authority of elderly men who are able to recall events 
of the kst two decades before the Civil War, it may safely be stated 
that white persons sometimes taught free negro children in the 
homes of the negroes. 

88 / 1 

Calx, p. 4. 

88 Census of 1850, Population, vol. vii, p. 271. 



opposed to the residence of free negroes in Virginia, par 
ticularly the promoters of societies for colonizing them in 
Africa, to condemn them almost indiscriminately as being 
not only morally depraved but economically worthless. 90 
Fortunately there are other and less biased witnesses from 
whose evidence may be formed an estimate of the value and 
merits of the free colored class as an economic factor. It 
should be remembered that all efforts to remove the free 
negroes from Virginia failed utterly, and with truth it may 
be said that one of the chief obstacles in the way of those 
efforts was, then as at the present time, the demand for 
their labor. Between 1790 and 1860 the free negro class, 
numbering from twelve thousand to sixty thousand, was far 
from being a negligible factor in the labor supply of that 
half of the State in which they resided and to which their 
labor was accessible. Any conception that the free negro 
was crushed in the scramble for employment between the 
slave and the white laborer may at the outset be banished 
from mind. Let us see in a general way what were the con 
ditions affecting the economic opportunities of the free negro 
from 1782 to the Civil War as regards the character of em 
ployment and employers. 

The agricultural and especially the plantation work was 
done principally by slaves. But there was a large element 
in the white population, even in the eastern part of the State, 
which was non-slaveholding and not devoted to agriculture, 
except in an avocational and subsidiary manner. To this 
element belonged the larger part of town and city popula 
tions. Whatever employment was furnished to laborers by 
the non-slaveholding class of whites was open to competition 
by the free negro ; and his competitors were white laborers 
and persons who had slaves to hire. 81 But many non-slave- 

90 Compare what William Jay had to say in 1835 on the char 
acter and tendency of the American colonization societies, in a little 
book entitled Slavery in America, chapters i-v. He quotes C. L. 
Moseby s address before the Virginia Colonization Society, as fol 
lows: "This class of persons is a curse and a contagion wherever 
they reside" (p. 12; African Repository, vol. iii, p. 203). 

91 Local newspaper advertisement, City Point, 1800 : " Encourage- 


holding employers preferred free labor to slave labor be 
cause of conscientious scruples as to the moral justification 
of slavery, 92 and hired slaves were not well suited to do 
small irregular jobs. Hence there was a certain amount of 
employment for which the free negro had no competitor, 
except the white laborer, or white hireling, as he was some 
times called. 

Within this field of demand for free laborers, where the 
only handicap upon the free negro in his contest with the 
free white workman was race prejudice, he was easily the 
winner. In the first place, white men of pride, disdaining 
to enter into competition with the free negro for employ 
ment open to them, emigrated to the West. "While he 
[the free negro] remained here," asserted citizens of Hen- 
rico County in 1825, "no white laborer will seek employ 
ment near him. Hence, it is that in some of the richest 
counties east of the Blue Ridge the white population is sta 
tionary and in many others it is retrograde." 93 Governor 
Smith in his message of 1847 to the legislature said, " I ven 
ture the opinion that a larger emigration of our white labor 
ers is produced by our free negroes than by the institution 
of slavery." 94 

Such white laborers as remained to seek employment in 
the State fared badly where the free negroes were at all 
numerous. There were at least two important reasons for 
the free negro s supremacy over the white laborer: First, 
his standard of living and mode of living permitted him to 
accept smaller wages than the whites could accept and live. 
Governor Smith protested in 1848 that in the kind of work 

merit offered to free negroes or to persons having negroes to hire. 
William Heth." The work to be done was ditching and draining. 
(Taken from a fragment of a newspaper accompanying a legislative 
petition, in Virginia State Library.) 

92 MS. Petitions, Loudoun Co., 1843, B 1900; F. L. Olmstead, 
A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, p. 94; see statement of Ran 
dolph in the National Federal Convention, 1787, in Madison Papers, 
vol. iii, p. 1396. 

93 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1825, A 9358, A 9359. 

94 House Journal, 1847-1848, p. 20. Governor Smith reaffirmed 
this belief in his message of 1848 (ibid., 1848-1849, p. 22). 


required in cities and in odd jobs the free negroes "wholly 
supersede by the smallness and nature of their compensation 
the employment of white men." 95 Secondly, the free negro, 
being naturally of an obedient, tractable disposition and re 
spectful of personal authority, and being hedged about by 
numerous legal incapacities and perils, was more easily com 
manded and directed, and was therefore a more desirable 
servant. Again, we have Governor Smith to testify, not in 
praise, but in blame, of the free negroes that " they perform 
a thousand little menial services to the exclusion of the 
white man, preferred by their employers because of the au 
thority and control which they can exercise and frequently 
because of the ease and facility with which they can remu 
nerate such services." 96 

The extent of the white employer s power to command a 
free negro workman or servant was even greater than that 
of a master over a slave ; for by nature the free negro was 
quite as docile and as amenable to supervision as the slave, 
and unlike the slave he could be driven from the job and thus 
deprived of his means of support. Hence, as a matter of 
practice, the free negro was not infrequently a better " slave" 
than his kinsman in bondage. Between 1806 and 1860 large 
numbers of free negroes, when found beyond the limits of 
the counties or towns where they were known to have legal 
residence rights, were hired out by law as vagrants. Upon 
an occasion of a number of arrests, or when such prisoners 
arrested at various times had accumulated, the sheriff held 
a public auction, and cried off to the highest bidder the ser 
vices of these freemen for a definite term of months or 
years, their labor selling from a few cents up to twenty-five 
cents per day. 97 Certainly with this system of hiring out 
free negroes under the vagrancy laws nothing but "poor 
white trash " could compete. The feelings of the white 

90 Message, in House Journal, 1848-1849, p. 22. 

"Message, in House Journal, 1847-1848, p. 20. 

97 Hiring out free negroes who were willing to be engaged by en 
terprising white agents became such a prosperous business that in 
1852 a license tax of twenty-five dollars was exacted of such agents 
(Acts, 1852-1853, P- 15; 1855-1856, p. 45). 


laborer in view of the conditions were correctly voiced by 
a white citizen writing in the Richmond Whig, December 
n, 1845 : " Those whose hearts are now sickened when they 
look into the carpenters shops, the blacksmiths shops and 
the shops of all the different trades in Richmond and see 
them crowded with negro apprentices and negro workmen, 
are ready to quit in disgust." Laws imposing direct restric 
tion upon the economic activities and competition of the 
free negro were repeatedly asked for, but were refused by 
the legislature. 98 

Further light may be thrown upon the character and scope 
of the economic need served by the free negro by summar 
izing from many concrete cases the occupations in which he 
prospered. From the list may be eliminated lawyers, doc 
tors, and, after 1832, teachers and preachers. Free negroes 
were forbidden by law to act in an official capacity, to ad 
minister medicine, and to teach or preach to persons assem 
bled." By reason of a prejudicial interpretation of the 
laws, if not in open violation of them, free negroes were 
not allowed to pursue unmolested the business of an inn 
keeper or proprietor. 100 A small part of the free colored 
class were landowners and farmers, having come into pos 
session of land usually by bequest from their former owner. 

88 House Journal, 1830-1831. Citizens of Culpeper County peti 
tioned the legislature in 1831 to pass a law " for encouraging white 
mechanics by forbidding any slave free negro or mulatto to be bound 
apprentice to learn any trade or art" (House Journal, 1831-1832, 
pp. 2, 84). Certain limitations were placed by law upon the eco 
nomic freedom of the free negro; but they were ostensibly for police 
purposes, and only incidentally affected his freedom in getting 

"See above, pp. 116, 144. 

100 In 1844 Jacob Sampson, a free mulatto, was ordered to show 
why his license of the court of Goochland County for keeping an 
inn or ordinary should not be revoked, and with no charges against 
him his license was revoked without any portion of the tax being 
refunded to him. By way of appeal to the legislature, he procured 
testimonials from a number of white citizens showing that he was 
honest, sober, and of good character; that in an orderly house 
which he had kept for fifteen years on the " three chopped " road 
he had entertained persons generally, and stock drivers especially, 
in a satisfactory manner. But his appeals were rejected by the 
legislature (MS. Petitions, Goochland County, 1844, A 7113; House 
Journal, 1844-1845, p. 37). 


But the free negro was in general a toiler. Tucker observed 
that " the occupations of persons of this class are nearly the 
same as those of slaves." 101 Among those petitioning the 
legislature between 1776 and 1860 were the following, 
enumerated by trades and occupations : barbers, coopers, car 
penters, mechanics, cabinet-makers, wheelwrights, chair- 
makers, bricklayers, plasterers, painters, tanners, shoemakers, 
blacksmiths, millers, sawyers, wood-dealers, draymen, huck 
sters, gardeners, confectioners, bakers, fishermen, fishmon 
gers, oysterers, commanders of boats, lead miners, day labor 
ers at all work, body servants and attendants, household ser 
vants, and washerwomen. There were known also to be a 
few merchants or dealers, 102 a few musicians, 103 and a few 
undertakers. 104 

A glance at this list will reveal the reason why free negroes 
flocked to the cities and towns. The employment in urban 
districts was in the nature of job work and service in un 
skilled trades to which the free negroes were adaptable. 
"Bad as they are," admitted an unfriendly critic in 1859, 
"the free- negroes [in cities and towns] serve best in many 
menial and low stations." 105 Furthermore, as between occu 
pations on the water and on the land, the free negro showed 
an inclination to choose the former. Tucker thought that 
one reason why the number of adult free colored females 

101 G. Tucker, Progress of the United States in Population and 
Wealth in Fifty Years, p. 139. In the census enumeration made in 
Virginia in 1782 some free negroes appear as appurtenances of the 
estates of white persons (Heads of Families, First Census of United 
States, 1790, Virginia, pp. 112-118). 

102 Law and sentiment were not favorable toward free negro deal 
ers, especially hawkers and pedlars (2 Revised Code, 43). See 
Richmond Daily Dispatch, February 18, 1858, on the whipping of a 
free negro poultry dealer for stealing. 

103 At one time before the Civil War the colored band of the Rich 
mond Blues was composed of free negroes. 

104 A free negro undertaker of Charlestown, West Virginia, makes 
the assertion that before the Civil War he buried the dead of the 
better classes of whites. 

105 " Calx," p. 15. See petition from Norfolk to the legislature, 
which, while pleading the cause of a free negro who was about to 
be forced to quit the city, pleaded also in behalf of " female fam 
ilies " of the city whom the free negro had been supplying with 
fuel (MS. Petitions, Norfolk County, 1834, B 4566). 


exceeded the number of adult males of this class, while the 
reverse was true of other classes of the population, was 
that the male free negroes sought a seafaring life. 106 Bagby 
hints that the negro s preference for the Baptist Church may 
possibly find some explanation in his love for the water. 107 
Fishing, oyster-dredging, and working on ships or boats as 
servants, cooks, stewards, stevedores, or navigators were all 
enticing employments for the free negro. Many of the best 
patronized boats on the rivers and bays were owned by free 
persons of color. 

Probably the most prosperous and useful class of free 
negroes were the barbers. Many of the towns and cities, 
for example Lynchburg and Richmond, were at times almost 
wholly dependent upon free colored barbers. 108 Reuben 
West, a Richmond free negro following the trade of a 
barber, acquired a fortune of several thousand dollars. 109 
In his shop on Main Street he ran from one to four chairs, 
and had as apprentice a free mulatto, William Mundin, who 
learned, and for a number of years followed, the trade as 
an apprentice to this free black man. If an assertion may 
be based wholly upon the declaration of a freeborn and very 
respectable negro yet living 110 who knew Reuben West, the 
latter owned for a few years two slaves whom he employed 
at his trade in his shop. 

In some trades there were free negro entrepreneurs, who ; 
used and directed the labor of hired free negroes and slaves. 
A. E. Andrews, writing from Fredericksburg in 1835, as 
serted that " some of the best mechanics of the city are 
coloured men, and among them are several master workmen, 

G. Tucker, Progress of the United States, p. 60. 

108 A distinguished gentleman of Richmond, who in 1912 was 
eighty-four years of age, asserts that in all his life he never had a 
barber who was not colored to cut his hair or shave him. This was 
told the author to illustrate the extent to which the free negro was 
relied upon in the barber s trade. 

109 Tax-books, 1856, 1857, 1859. City Hall, Richmond. 

110 James H. Hill, 227 V Street, N. W., Washington, D. C, in 
structor in wood-work in the public schools, owns property in 
Richmond which belonged to the Hill family of free negroes long 
before the Civil War. 


who employ a considerable number of coloured laborers." 111 
It was no uncommon practice for free negroes to hire slaves 
to labor for them. The legislature considered repeatedly 
the expediency of denying to free negroes the right to hire 
slaves, 112 the ground of objection probably being the tendency 
of such employment to cause the slave, commanded by one 
not socially his superior, to despise his slavery, or the oppor 
tunity in such employ to acquire a knowledge of antislavery 
doctrines and propaganda. 

How largely the failure of all attempts to remove the free 
negro from the State was due to a fairer appreciation of 
his economic worth when the value of an individual was to 
be considered than when the class as a whole was under 
review is shown by the protests forthcoming from the 
white inhabitants wherever and whenever an effort was 
made to enforce the law requiring negroes set free after 
1806 to quit the State. 113 The protests are hardly less sig 
nificant because they attempt to have only individuals ex- 
cepted from the operation of the law than if they aimed at 
saving the entire class. In 1810 sixty persons prayed the 
legislature to allow a free negro wheelwright, "who will 
benefit the whole country," to remain in the State and the 
county; 114 and in the same year citizens of Petersburg de 
clared to the Assembly that the town could not spare without 
loss one Uriah Tyner. 115 In 1812 a large number of citizens 
of Berkeley and Frederick counties told the legislature that 
"there is not a human being in this part of the country 
where they [Jerry and Susanna, free colored] reside who is 

111 P. 162. 

112 The matter was before the legislature of 1841-1842 (House 
Journal, p. 16) ; a bill was introduced to prevent the practice in 
1843 (ibid., 1842-1843, p. 182) ; the expediency of similar legislation 
was considered in 1844 (ibid., 1844-1845, p. 66), but the committee 
asked to be discharged. 

" The harsh measures often proposed in the legislature by those 
who feel the evil of their increasing numbers, have not been carried 
into laws " because of " the examples of intelligence, honesty and 
worth among them" (Message of Governor Smith, in House Jour 
nal, 1850-1851, p. 30). 

114 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1810, A 9180. 

115 MS. Petitions, Dinwiddie County, 1810, A 4946. 


opposed to their remaining in Virginia." 116 The plea of the 
inhabitants of Lynchburg for Pleasant Rowan, a free colored 
carpenter and mechanic, was that " his loss would be felt in 
the community ;" 116a for Frederick Williams that he was a 
much needed barber ; llob and for Ned Adams, that he was 
an almost indispensable cooper. 117 The people of Henrico 
County, petitioning for John Hopes, a free negro, said that 
he was a cooper "who would be useful in any community." 118 
The same thing was said of Daniel Warner, a free negro 
barber of Warrenton, by one hundred and twenty white peti 
tioners. 119 Ninety-five citizens of Accomac County declared 
to the legislature in 1838 that the services of John, a free 
negro sawyer, "are much required in his neighborhood." 120 
Henry Parker of Loudoun County was considered by his 
white neighbors as "a good and useful man," desirable in 
the community as. a day laborer. 121 No better example of 
the economic value placed upon the free negro could be 
found than the following petition from thirty-eight citizens 
of Essex County: "We would be glad if he [Ben, a free 
negro] could be permitted to remain with us and have his 
freedom as he is a well disposed person and a very useful 
man in many respects, he is a good carpenter, a good cooper, 
a coarse shoemaker, a good hand at almost everything that 
is useful to us farmers." 122 

In behalf of Harriet Cook, free colored, nearly one hun 
dred white persons, among whom were seven justices of the 
peace, five ex-justices, sixteen merchants, six lawyers, and 
one postmaster, made to the legislature this petition: "It 

U8 MS. Petitions, Berkeley County, 1812, A 1980. Cf. a petition 
in behalf of Thomas Richard, of Lee County, who, it was asserted, 
could have got every man who knew him to consent to his remain 
ing (MS. Petitions, Lee County, 1820, B 1315). 
*MS. Petitions, Campbell County, 1826, A 3482. 

I9b Ibid., 1834, A 3546, one hundred and seventy-five white peti 

7 Ibid., 1834, A 3544, one hundred and sixty names. 
MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1836, A 9531. 

1 MS. Petitions, Fauquier County, 1836, A 5848. 

20 MS. Petitions, Accomac County, 1838, A 88. 

MS. Petitions, Essex County, 1842, A 5413. 


who employ a considerable number of coloured laborers." 111 
It was no uncommon practice for free negroes to hire slaves 
to labor for them. The legislature considered repeatedly 
the expediency of denying to free negroes the right to hire 
slaves, 112 the ground of objection probably being the tendency 
of such employment to cause the slave, commanded by one 
not socially his superior, to despise his slavery, or the oppor 
tunity in such employ to acquire a knowledge of antislavery 
doctrines and propaganda. 

How largely the failure of all attempts to remove the free 
negro from the State was due to a fairer appreciation of 
his economic worth when the value of an individual was to 
be considered than when the class as a whole was under 
review is shown by the protests forthcoming from the 
white inhabitants wherever and whenever an effort was 
made to enforce the law requiring negroes set free after 
1806 to quit the State. 113 The protests are hardly less sig 
nificant because they attempt to have only individuals ex- 
cepted from the operation of the law than if they aimed at 
saving the entire class. In 1810 sixty persons prayed the 
legislature to allow a free negro wheelwright, "who will 
benefit the whole country," to remain in the State and the 
county; 114 and in the same year citizens of Petersburg de 
clared to the Assembly that the town could not spare without 
loss one Uriah Tyner. 115 In 1812 a large number of citizens 
of Berkeley and Frederick counties told the legislature that 
"there is not a human being in this part of the country 
where they [Jerry and Susanna, free colored] reside who is 

111 P. 162. 

112 The matter was before the legislature of 1841-1842 (House 
Journal, p. 16) ; a bill was introduced to prevent the practice in 
1843 (ibid., 1842-1843, p. 182) ; the expediency of similar legislation 
was considered in 1844 (ibid., 1844-1845, p. 66), but the committee 
asked to be discharged. 

113 " The harsh measures often proposed in the legislature by those 
who feel the evil of their increasing numbers, have not been carried 
into laws" because of "the examples of intelligence, honesty and 
worth among them" (Message of Governor Smith, in House Jour 
nal, 1850-1851, p. 30). 

14 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1810, A 9180. 
115 MS. Petitions, Dinwiddie County, 1810, A 4946. 


opposed to their remaining in Virginia." 116 The plea of the 
inhabitants of Lynchburg for Pleasant Rowan, a free colored 
carpenter and mechanic, was that " his loss would be felt in 
the community ;" 116a for Frederick Williams that he was a 
much needed barber ; llcb and for Ned Adams, that he was 
an almost indispensable cooper. 117 The people of Henrico 
County, petitioning for John Hopes, a free negro, said that 
he was a cooper "who would be useful in any community." 118 
The same thing was said of Daniel Warner, a free negro 
barber of Warrenton, by one hundred and twenty white peti 
tioners. 119 Ninety-five citizens of Accomac County declared 
to the legislature in 1838 that the services of John, a free 
negro sawyer, u are much required in his neighborhood." 120 
Henry Parker of Loudoun County was considered by his 
white neighbors as "a good and useful man," desirable in 
the community as. a day laborer. 121 No better example of 
the economic value placed upon the free negro could be 
found than the following petition from thirty-eight citizens 
of Essex County: "We would be glad if he [Ben, a free 
negro] could be permitted to remain with us and have his 
freedom as he is a well disposed person and a very useful 
man in many respects, he is a good carpenter, a good cooper, 
a coarse shoemaker, a good hand at almost everything that 
is useful to us farmers." 122 

In behalf of Harriet Cook, free colored, nearly one hun 
dred white persons, among whom were seven justices of the 
peace, five ex-justices, sixteen merchants, six lawyers, and 
one postmaster, made to the legislature this petition: "It 

118 MS. Petitions, Berkeley County, 1812, A 1980. Cf. a petition 
in behalf of Thomas Richard, of Lee County, who, it was asserted, 
could have got every man who knew him to consent to his remain 
ing (MS. Petitions, Lee County, 1820, B 1315). 
*MS. Petitions, Campbell County, 1826, A 3482. 

I6b Ibid., 1834, A 3546, one hundred and seventy-five white peti 

7 Ibid., 1834, A 3544, one hundred and sixty names. 
MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1836, A 9531. 

1 MS. Petitions, Fauquier County, 1836, A 5848. 

* MS. Petitions, Accomac County, 1838, A 88. 

" MS. Petitions, Loudoun County, 1848, B 1961 ; 1849, B 1971. 

122 MS. Petitions, Essex County, 1842, A 5413. 


the terms of the act placed a penalty upon white persons 
employing a free colored person not known to be a resident 
of the county or town in which the employer lived, thus 
narrowly limiting the scope of industrial activity of every 
free negro to his home town or county unless he ventured 
abroad to face conditions of employment doubly hazardous. 
Five years later an act made unlawful the permanent resi 
dence in Virginia of any slave set free after May I, 1806. 
For a number of years there was almost no effort made to 
punish violators of this law ; consequently there accumulated 
a considerable number of free colored persons who were not 
by law entitled to reside in the State. By and by spasmodic 
efforts began to be made to give the act life. The efforts 
were not such as to prevent the increase of this expatriated 
class by means of manumission, but were sufficient to incite 
many of them to leave a community in which they were 
threatened or molested, and to seek safety and a means of 
subsistence elsewhere in the State. Some who were forced 
to move by the operation of this law were kept from settling 
by the above-mentioned prohibitions upon white employers 
to furnish them work. By 1860 probably from one fourth 
to one third of the free colored population in Virginia were 
unlawful residents under the provisions of the act of 1806. 
How little wonder it is that a colored population, facing 
the adverse industrial conditions which produced the " poor 
whites," and contending furthermore with every obstruction 
to economic freedom that laws could provide short of slav 
ery, furnished many recruits for a class of negroes that 
were idle, vagrant, and parasitical in their method of ob 
taining a living. 

In passing now to a discussion of the moral character of 
the free negro, we must avoid the error of his unfriendly 
contemporary critics who judged him solely by that portion 
of his class which was wandering through or living in the 
State without employment. If we have in mind only this 
idle set of vagabond free negroes, it would indeed be difficult 


to exaggerate the moral degradation into which they fell. 
It is well worth while to take notice of some of the many 
adverse criticisms of the Virginia free negro by persons and 
societies unfriendly to him, because such characterizations 
may be justly applied to the worst element of the free col 
ored population. 

A petition of the Virginia Colonization Society for legis 
lation in aid of efforts to remove the free negroes declared 
in 1833 that "the free negro is degraded, vicious and crimi 
nal." 132 In 1846 Governor Smith asserted that " our crimi 
nal statistics . . . demonstrate the moral degradation of the 
free negro, the hopelessness of his reform, the mischievous 
influence of his associations." 133 Again, in 1847 Governor 
Smith characterized the free negro class as " a race of idlers, 
thriftless and unproductive ; they labor only from necessity, 
are content to put up with only a meagre supply of wants, 
prowl at dead of night and filch the labor of others." 134 
Olmstead found a Virginia slave-owner who contended with 
him that the free negroes were "a miserable set of vaga 
bonds, drunken, vicious, worse than those who are retained 
in slavery." 135 C. L. Moseby, in a speech before the Vir 
ginia Colonization Society, characterized the free colored 
class as " a large mass of human beings who hang as a vile 
excrescence upon society." 136 General Mercer, vice-presi 
dent of the society, described the class as " a horde of mis 
erable people the objects of universal suspicion subsist 
ing by plunder." 137 

133 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1833, A 9456. 

133 House Journal, 1846-1847, p. 9. 

134 Ibid., 1847-1848, p. 20. But Governor Smith s generalizations 
were not expressed in words which conceal his prejudiced point of 
view. Having declared that the free negro was " a moral leper," 
he added : " That he will prove the ready instrument of those to be 
found in certain sections of our Union, who would kindle into flame 
our social edifice, cannot be doubted," thus revealing a strong motive 
for rinding fault with the free negro character (ibid., 1846-1847, 

130 Address before the Virginia Colonization Society, quoted from 
Jay, Slavery in America, p. 12; African Repository, vol. iii, p. 203. 
137 African Repository, vol. ii, p. 189. 


A few of the free negro s critics were more discriminat 
ing, and by carefully confining their criticisms to the lowest 
stratum of the free negro class they afford additional proof 
that persons or societies who indiscriminately condemned all 
free negroes were judging the whole in view of only its 
worst part. For an example of the more conservative opin 
ion of the degradation of the free negroes we may note the 
petition of the county court of Loudoun County to the legis 
lature in 1836: "It is a curious fact that this unfortunate 
and degraded population, unwilling to leave the state ; and 
placing itself in a condition to elude the officers of justice 
by flying from neighborhood to neighborhood and from 
county to county, is restrained from making permanent set 
tlements; and is thus actually legislated into poverty, va 
grancy, and crime." 138 

In the debate of 1832 Thomas Marshall with truth and 
with a discernment not usual with those who attempted to 
solve the free negro problem declared that in proportion as 
they were idle they were mischievous. 139 Professor Thomas 
R. Dew saw the close relation which the crimes and moral 
degradation of free negroes bore to their poverty and want, 
and explained it thus : " Idleness generates want, want gives 
rise to temptation, and strong temptation makes the crimi 
nal." 140 The wisdom of these observations is abundantly 
verified when we turn to the record of free negroes who 
were able to find remunerative employment in a tolerant 
community. In the place of such descriptive words as " de 
graded," " idle," " vicious," " drunken," " dishonest," which 
filled the memorials of the colonizers, there appear such 
phrases as " a man of integrity and honesty," 141 " honest and 
prosperous man," 142 " gentility, trustworthiness and skill." 143 
In 1810 some of the most prominent citizens of Accomac 
County certified to the legislature that Jingo, a free negro, 

138 MS. Petitions, Loudoun County,, 1836, B 1849. 

139 Richmond Enquirer, February 14, 1832. 

140 P. 83. 

141 MS. Petitions, Campbell County, 1822, A 3460. 

142 Ibid., 1851, A 3684. 

143 MS. Petitions, Loudoun County, 1850, B 1988. 


"hath uniformly supported an excellent character for so 
briety, honesty and industry and that he hath a wife and five 
children. . . . His wife is a woman of good character. . . . 
The husband and wife have provided well for their children 
and bring them up in a moral way." 144 Even among the 
class of whites who were hostile to the continued existence 
of the free negroes in Virginia there was an occasional wit 
ness to the fact that " examples of intelligence, honesty and 
worth are not lacking among them," 145 and that " there are 
many of better habits and a few who are industrious, provi 
dent and even worthy and useful ;" 146 and a traveller from 
a Northern State expressed the opinion that " the free blacks 
are more moral and respectable than many among the lowest 
class of whites." 147 In view of the various conflicting as 
sertions we are led to give credit to the recollections of 
respectable free negroes still living, who insist on dividing 
the free negroes, on a moral and social basis, into two classes, 
the upper one of which was thoroughly respectable, law- 
abiding, and prosperous, while to the lower element prop 
erly belongs the reputation for being evil associates and 
corruptors of slaves, and parasites on the community in 
which they lived. 148 Persons of the former class were des 
ignated by the respectful name of " men of color ; " indi 
viduals of the latter class were called " free niggers." 149 
The foregoing remarks on the moral character of the free 

144 MS. Petitions, Accomac County, 1810, A 42. 

145 Governor Floyd s message, in House Journal, 1850-1851, p. 30. 

1 " Calx," p. 5. In his essay, written about 1859, Calx proposed a 
scheme for reducing the number of free negroes by making a lack 
of employment evidence of guilt sufficient to authorize sale into slav 
ery as a punishment He opposed any indiscriminate sale or re 
moval of both good and bad. 

147 Andrews, p. 162. 

148 This is the testimony of William Mundin, born 1839, now living 
(1911) in Richmond. 

149 Interview with Richard A. Tucker, 13 Suffolk Street, Norfolk, 
Virginia. Judge Crothers, of Portsmouth, recalled that when he 
was a boy going to school four miles from his home in Isle of 
Wight County he passed on the way five families of free negroes. 
" They were respectable, respected, and fairly well-to-do." As far 
as he knew, there was no desire on the part of the white persons 
of the community to be rid of them (interview, Portsmouth, Jan 
uary 4, 1911). 


negro have been made touching his deportment in general. 
To be able to determine what measure of justification there 
was for a vast deal of legislation imposing special limita 
tions and restrictions upon his conduct inquiry must be 
made specifically into the truth of a few of the oft-repeated 
charges and indictments upon which discriminatory legisla 
tion was based. The four charges which were made with 
most telling effect were: (i) that he was a thief and a re 
ceiver of stolen goods; (2) that he was criminally disposed 
in an unusual degree; (3) that he was insurrectionary; and 
(4) that he was lazy and improvident. 

First, then, as to his propensity to steal. That the free 
negro class produced a rather disproportionate number of 
thieves should not be doubted, but that the free negroes were 
worse in this respect than the slaves, or that they were worse 
than so many white persons would have become if placed in 
their circumstances and forced to remain there, is by no 
means proved. Jefferson observed with truth that " a man s 
moral sense must be unusually strong if slavery does not 
make him a thief." 150 While many of the free negroes of 
the period between 1782 and 1865 received their training 
in slavery, the possession of such qualities as trustworthi 
ness, honesty, and faithfulness to duty was a prerequisite 
to the attainment of freedom. A bad slave, like an unruly 
horse, was more likely to go on the market, and was less 
likely to have the commiseration of his master, than one of 
better qualities. The fact is that the free negroes, as far as 
they had employment, were less inclined to steal than were 
slaves; but in this regard the less fortunate free negroes 
were subject to greater temptation, if possible, than slaves, 
and the evidence is conclusive that they were surpassed by 
no other inhabitants of the Commonwealth in the number 
and variety of their depredations. Mr. Archer, addressing 
the Virginia Colonization Society, said : " The free blacks are 
destined by an insurmountable barrier to the want of occu 
pation, thence to the want of food thence to the distresses 

150 Writings of Jefferson, vol. v, p. 66 (1789). 


which ensue that want thence to the settled deprivation 
which grows out of those distresses and is nursed in their 
bosoms." 151 " Since they are idle," observed ninety citizens 
of Culpeper County, " they either steal or perish." 152 

It should, however, be kept in mind in a comparison of 
the free negro with the slave in regard to all such misde 
meanors as thievery that the free negro was severely brought 
to account and universally criticised for his offenses, whereas 
the slave was often shielded from prosecution and criticism 
by reason of the dignity and authority of his master. Slave 
owners were sometimes reluctant to admit that their slaves 
were as bad as or worse than the slaves of their neighbors, 
and by way of self-defense and self-protection from criti 
cism condoned the misdemeanors of their slaves or punished 
them in private. But there was no cloak for the " free nig 
ger." The old warning " Be sure your sin will find you 
out " had abundant sanction as applied to him. 

The economic activities of the roguish free negroes and 
slaves were thoroughly complementary and harmonious. 
The free negro, unlike the slave, could market products, the 
presumption being that he lawfully possessed them. The 
slave possessed first-hand information as to the location of 
many articles of produce. Hence the problem of produc 
tion was managed by the slave ; the burden of transportation 
was borne by the free negro ; and the method of distribution 
was determined by mutual agreement. As early as 1691 the 
free negro was charged with being a receiver and conveyer 

151 Quoted from Dew, p. 83. 

152 MS, Petitions, Culpeper County, 1846, A 4611. County and 
hustings court records of the nineteenth century contain numerous 
examples of theft by free negroes. See, for example, case of Bob 
Green, a free negro, who in a single night stole seven hams of 
bacon (Orders of the Richmond Hustings Court, no. u, 1814, p. 
153). Newspaper notes of their larcenies were sometimes tinged 
with a sarcasm that is indicative of their frequent repetition, as for 
instance the following : " The Poultry Trade A negro engaged in 
the poultry business was detected a few nights ago in the act of rob 
bing a hen house on the premises of a citizen of Manchester. A 
magistrate ordered 39 for his benefit the next day" (Richmond 
Daily Dispatch, February 18, 1858). 

1 1 


of stolen goods, 153 and upon this and other accusations was 
based the legal restriction upon manumission. Soon after 
the act removing these restrictions went into effect, in 1782, 
complaints were heard from different quarters that " free 
negroes are agents, factors, and carriers to the neighboring 
towns for slaves, of property by them stolen from their 
masters and others." 154 

In the neighborhood of almost every gristmill in certain 
parts of eastern Virginia there were located squads of free 
negroes who were suspected by their white neighbors of 
procuring a large part of their sustenance by concert with 
roguish slave millers. In 1831 a number of citizens of 
Charles City and New Kent counties, seeking from the leg 
islature relief from such conditions, asserted that it was a 
custom almost universal with owners of mills in their coun 
ties and in fact in the whole lower part of the State to em 
ploy slaves to attend the mills, and that the millers " are a 
sort of communication between slaves and the free persons 
of color" in the neighborhood. 155 The legislature, however, 
took no action in relief of the persons aggrieved. 156 

A complaint of a similar kind was received by the legisla 
ture in 1836 from Loudoun County. According to the peti 
tioners, free negroes who owned " trading carts " and oper 
ated them between Washington or Georgetown and the rural 
communities of Virginia near the District of Columbia line 
were in the habit of receiving stolen goods from free negroes 
and slaves. 157 Complaints were heard at the same time from 
other quarters of the State, and, although the legislature 
refused to grant the specified request of the Loudoun County 
petitioners, 158 a bill of general application was introduced 
which was designed to prevent free negroes from trading 

153 Hening, vol. iii, p. 87. 

154 MS. Petitions, Hanover County, 1784, A 8124; Henrico County, 
1784, A 8971. 

165 MS. Petitions, Charles City County, 1831, A 3962. 
158 House Journal, 1831-1832, pp. 56, 84. 
m MS. Petitions, Loudoun County, 1836, B 1840. 
158 House Journal, 1835-1836, p. 262. 


beyond the town in which they resided. The measure met 
with defeat. 159 

There was a manifest reluctance on the part of the legis 
lature to interfere by law with the right of the free negroes 
to trade freely, and, although complaints were becoming 
ominous, 160 proposed legislation for prohibiting them from 
selling grain without a certificate or evidence that they were 
the lawful possessors of it was in 1840 declared inexpe 
dient. 161 In some counties, however, the white citizens were 
determined not to take further denial from the legislature. 
In 1843 one hundred and twenty-seven citizens of Accomac 
County signed a petition for a law imposing a penalty upon 
all white persons who made purchases of grain from free 
negroes without requiring from them the certificate of two 
respectable housekeepers showing that the grain was law 
fully possessed. " Country stores are in the habit," reads 
the petition, " of receiving grain from free negroes who are 
not the producers of a single bushel of grain of any kind. 
The grain they sell is either stolen by the negroes who sell it 
or more frequently received by them of slaves who steal it 
from their masters and others and by this means exerts a 
most pernicious influence upon our slaves." 162 In response 
to the appeal there was introduced in the House of Dele 
gates a bill containing provisions similar to those asked for 
by the Accomac petition and applicable to the entire State. 
It was later narrowed in application to the counties of Acco 
mac and Richmond and enacted into law. 163 

159 Ibid., p. 244. 

180 In 1836 the following petition was made to the legislature by 
citizens of Northumberland County : " This class of people, as is 
well known to your honorable body, is everything that is the very 
opposite of honesty and industry. . . . The law to prevent dealing 
with slaves is a dead letter . . . for the slave has nothing to do 
but to pass over the plundered property of his owner to the free 
negroes who can openly carry it to market and make sale of it as 
the production of his own labor." 

Since 1785 it had been unlawful for free persons to trade with a 
slave without leave from the slave s master and to trade with slaves, 
free negroes, or mulattoes on Sunday (i Revised Code, 426). 

161 House Journal, 1840-1841, p. 59. 

62 MS. Petitions, Accomac County, 1843, A 98. 

163 House Journal, 1842-1843, pp. 213, 269; Acts, 1842-1845. 


The second charge or accusation, as above enumerated, 
which was repeatedly made against the free negro was that 
he was unusually criminal. Upon the assumption of the 
truth of this indictment were based the criminal laws of the 
second quarter of the nineteenth century applicable to the 
free negro. Before the beginning of the nineteenth century 
the free negro class was not so large as to attract special 
attention to its criminal record. Statistics relative to the 
inmates of the penitentiary made and published during the 
first quarter of the nineteenth century brought to the atten 
tion of the public the fact that the free negroes were com 
mitting from two to twelve times as many of the crimes of 
the State for which punishment was meted out as an equal 
number of average white persons. According to criminal 
statistics in 1804, the free negroes committed in proportion 
to the population twice as many crimes as the free whites. 
In 1808 in proportion to the population they committed 
twelve crimes punished in the penitentiary to one among the 
whites; in 1810, three to one; in 1812, eight to one; and in 
1824, twelve to one. The conclusions drawn from these sta 
tistics created a very general belief that the free negro was 
fast becoming more criminal, and that existing criminal laws 
were wholly inadequate for a class so vicious as the free 
Africans. Consequently, in 1823 a law was passed which 
substituted for confinement in the penitentiary, transporta 
tion and sale as a method of punishing the crimes of free 
negroes. For four years this law was effective, during 
which time thirty-five free negroes were convicted, trans 
ported, and sold into slavery. 164 During this period the 
number of free negro convicts in proportion to the whites 
was no less than it had been under the penitentiary system. 
It is to the credit of Governor William B. Giles that the law 
was repealed in 1828. He realized the absurdity of taking 
the number of free negro convicts and comparing it with 
the number of white convicts in judging the relative criminal 
capacities and tendencies of the free negroes and the whites. 

104 House Documents, no. 15, 1848-1849; no. 4, 1853-1854. 


The injustice to the negro of such a method consisted, first, 
in an erroneous assumption that the laws were administered 
as severely against white persons as against free negroes, 185 
and, secondly, in a comparison of the record of the free 
negroes with the whole white population instead of with 
an equal number of whites similarly situated as to means of 
earning a living. So pertinent in this connection are the re 
marks of Governor Giles that they may be quoted at some 
length : 

I am far from yielding to the opinion expressed by the intelligent 
committee of the House of Delegates of Virginia and the enthu 
siastic memorialists of Ppwhatan respecting the degraded and de 
moralized condition of this caste at least in degree and extent. It 
will be admitted that this caste of colored population attracted but 
little of the public sympathy and commiseration, in fact, that the 
public feeling and sentiment are opposed to it. It is also admitted 
that the penal laws against it have been marked with peculiar sever 
ity ; 166 so much so, as to form a characteristic exception to our whole 
penal code. When I first came into the office of Governor, such 
was the severity of the penal laws against this caste, that for all 
capital offences short of punishment by death and for many of 
fences not capital, slavery, sale and transportation formed the 
wretched doom denounced by the laws against this unfavored, 
despised caste of colored population. ... I have also reason to fear, 
that under the influence of general prejudices, the laws, in some 
instances, have been administered against this class more in rigour 
than in justice. Yet, notwithstanding all these deprecated circum 
stances, the proportion of convicts to the whole population has 
been small. 

He points out the fact that only about one out of every 
thousand free negroes was a criminal, and concludes that 

185 It was made a penitentiary offense for a free person " to advise 
any slave to abscond from his master or aid such slave to abscond 
by procuring for or delivering to him a pass, register or other 
writing or furnish him money, clothes, etc." (Acts, 1855-1856, p. 42). 

In 1848 ten put of eighty-one free negroes in the penitentiary were 
there for aiding or abetting slaves to escape from their masters. 
This is only one example of the many more chances for a free negro 
to be sent to the penitentiary than for a white person (House Journal, 
1847-1848, pp. 20, 22; MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1844, A 9654). 
Two thirds of the offenses for which free negroes were arraigned 
before the hustings court of Richmond were defined by laws which 
did not apply to white persons, such, for instance, as that which 
made it a criminal offense for a free negro to remain in a city 
or county without proper registration (Richmond Daily Dispatch, 
February 8, 1859). 

1M Compare Howison, vol. ii, pp. 458-459, for similar- expressions. 
For example, he says: "They are subject to restraints and surveil 
lance in points beyond number." 


" these facts prove, first, that this class of population is by 
no means so vicious, degraded and demoralized as repre 
sented by their prejudiced friends and voluntary benefac 
tors. And, second, that evils attributed to this class are 
vastly magnified and exaggerated." 167 

From 1828, the date of the repeal of the law fixing trans 
portation and sale as a penalty in the case of free colored 
convicts, to 1861 the free colored class furnished from one 
tenth to one fifth of the inmates of the penitentiary. The 
apparent disproportion of the crimes of this class was often 
pointed out in argument for a general deportation or colo 
nization. 168 Governors Smith, Floyd, Johnson, and Wise 
brought the fact repeatedly to the attention of the legisla 
ture. 169 Governor Smith, however, attributed much of the 
disparity to circumstances which, for the free negro, were 
unavoidable. " If there be," said he, " in his natural char 
acter the elements to make him a great and good man, it is 
hopeless to expect that they will ever be developed under 
our policy." 170 Governor Wise, in stating in 1857 some pos 
sible arguments in defense of the free negro, observed that 
" if many of them are corrupted and degenerated ... it is 
owing not only to their own improvidence, but to evil com 
munication with bad white men who associate and deal with 
them and abuse their weakness and who are not restrained 
by penal laws." 171 

It should be said that the penal record of the Virginia free 
negro was not worse than that of the negro in some northern 
free States, for instance, Massachusetts. Between 1840 
and 1850 the number of colored convicts to one white con 
vict, in proportion to the population, was in Massachusetts, 

167 P. 20. 

1 " An ominous disparity ! which was constantly pressed upon 
the attention of the reflecting men of the state" (Howison, vol. ii, 
p. 458). 

169 Messages of the Governors, in House Journal, 1846-1847; 1847- 
1848, p. 20; 1850-1851, p. 30; 1853-1854, doc. no. i, p. 14; House 
Documents, no. I, 1857-1858, p. 151. 

170 House Journal, 1847-1848, p. 20. 

171 House Documents, no. i, 1857, p. 151. 


9.6 ; in Virginia, 7.2. For the first two years of the decade 
of the fifties it was in Massachusetts, 13 ; in Virginia, 6.3. 172 

If a comparison is made of the criminal record of the ne 
groes of Virginia at the present time on the basis of the 
relative number of white and black convicts in the peniten 
tiary, the disparity will appear as great today as at almost 
any time prior to the Civil War. 173 The conclusion seems 
irresistible that the criminal capacities and tendencies of the 
antebellum free negro were not so great as they were quite 
generally believed to be. 

Thirdly, was the free negro insurrectionary and turbu 
lent? No criticism of the free negro was more general and 
more undeserved than that he contrived, or was disposed to 
contrive, insurrections, and that he induced the slaves to 
rebel against their masters. He was referred to on the 
floor of the legislature in 1805 as a possible leader of a rebel 
lion or an "active chieftain of a formidable conspiracy." 174 

The insurrection in Santo Domingo, headed by the free 
blacks of the island, for a long time furnished the starting- 
point of arguments advanced to show that free negroes 
might at any time head a slave rebellion. In 1823 La 
fayette asked Madison whether it was considered that the 
increase in the proportion of free blacks to slaves tended to 
increase or diminish the dangers of insurrection. Madison s 
answer was, " Rather increases," and that in case of a slave 
insurrection the free blacks would be more likely to side 
with the slaves than with the whites. Madison certainly 
gave a correct expression of the general feeling or belief 
of the white population, but there is really little evidence to 
show that the impression was correct. There are no in 
stances on record of insurrections in Virginia initiated by 
or carried out under the leadership of free negroes. Not 
a free negro was proved to have had any criminal relation 
to the Gabriel plot in 1800, and only two free negro men 

L " House Documents, no. 14, 1853-1854, pp. 38, 54. 

173 Reports of Virginia Penitentiary, October, 1909, September 30, 

174 Richmond Enquirer, January 15, 1805. 


whose wives were slaves were implicated in the Nat Turner 
insurrection ; neither of the two seems to have been a lead 
ing spirit among the seventy or more slaves who partici 
pated in the affair. 175 

An insurrection always brought out expressions of fear 
of the free negro, first, because he was presumed to have 
kindred and sympathetic feelings for the slave and to share 
with him prejudices against the whites ; and secondly, be 
cause he was known to have intimate relations with the 
slaves and an increased capacity for organization by reason 
of his freedom to go from place to place. Expressed opin 
ions of the danger of free negro insurrections were very 
numerous for a while after the Southampton affair, 176 but 
occasionally some writer or speaker who thought twice be 
fore venturing a remedy for the ills of society pointed out 
the fact, which now seems plain enough, that the free negroes 
who had a legal right to remain and those who, despite the 
law, were tolerated in Virginia were too well satisfied to 
create insurrection. 177 Thomas Marshall observed with truth 
in the legislature of 1832, " There is no evidence of a dispo 
sition to join in revolt or disturb the public tranquility." 178 
Professsor Dew observed that the Virginia free negro had 
been taught to understand his place and to occupy it hum 
bly. 179 The antebellum free negro did not demand social or 
political equality, but rather felt that any right that he pos 
sessed was so much for which he should be thankful. The 
slave set free because of meritorious conduct or faithful 
ness of service, far from being insurrectionary, was an ex 
ample of politeness, humility, and respect for superiors and 
for authority such as is rarely if ever seen at the present 

175 Richmond Enquirer, November 18, 1831 ; W. S. Drewry, The 
Southampton Insurrection, appendix. 

170 " We are not unmindful of the aid slaves would get from 
this source [the free negroes] in case of a servile insurrection" 
(Petition of 200 citizens of Northampton, in MS. Petitions, Decem 
ber, 1831, A 4884). 

177 See article contributed to the Richmond Enquirer, November 
18, 1831. 

178 Richmond Enquirer, February 14, 1832. 
"Pp. 85, 87. 


among either the white or the black population. 180 The in 
fusion of this, the best type of African in America, among 
the free negro class was sufficient in itself to influence the 
class toward submissiveness. 

Thomas Marshall believed with not a few thoughtful men 
that the free negro constituted " no inconsiderable barrier 
to a future insurrection of slaves." 181 A similar opinion 
was expressed on the floor of the legislature in i8o5. 182 In 
truth, there are numerous instances of the forestalling of 
insurrections and the preventing of plots of slaves through 
the agency of free negroes. Moses, a free negro of Gooch- 
land County, revealed a conspiracy of slaves in 1822. 183 In 
1810 two hundred citizens of Petersburg declared to the 
legislature through a petition that a free negro, Emanuel, 
had saved the town from conflagration by reporting and 
aiding in the capture of incendiary, plotting slaves. 184 Lewis 
Bowlagh presented certificates to the legislature to show 
that he had given information to the whites in time to pre 
vent bloodshed plotted by slaves. 185 A petition in behalf of 
Isaac, of Rockbridge County, was based on the ground that 
he had been a useful man in detecting and bringing negroes 
to account for their wrongdoing. 186 Daniel Brady s father, 
a man of good character, even surrendered up his own son 
to stand his trial and suffer punishment. 187 It was certainly 
not the disposition of the free negro, knowingly and with 
design, to increase the prejudices of the whites against him 
by creating insurrection. Far from being of "a turbulent 
and discontented " disposition, as those in favor of coloniza- 

are peaceable, orderly in their deportment, humble to 
those whom the law has made their superiors and polite to those who 
are considered their equals." Said by fifty-nine white persons of 
Caroline County of nine free negroes Joseph Tyree, his wife, and 
seven children (MS. Petitions, Caroline County, 1821, A 3804). 

81 Richmond Enquirer, February 14, 1832. 

183 Ibid., January 15, 1805. 

83 MS. Petitions, Goochland County, 1822, A 7085. 

84 MS. Petitions, Dinwiddie County, 1810, A 5196. 
"MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1824, A 9353. 

86 MS. Petitions, Rockbridge County, uncatalogued. 
187 Pardons issued by Governor Wise, in House Documents, no. I, 
1857-1858, p. clxx. 


tion declared him to be, he longed to be left alone in the 
place of his birth, free from fears of molestation and annoy 
ance, to enjoy perfect contentment. Without question the 
free negro population in Virginia was in general meek and 
submissive and not inclined to rebellion. 188 

Fourthly, the charge often made that the free negro was 
lazy and improvident must not be accepted without some 
qualification. It is reasonable to believe that the free ne 
groes, like the slaves, were naturally lazy; but it is really 
remarkable what examples of thrift and economy this class 
produced. Within the space of four years Rose Hailstock 
purchased with her saved earnings her own freedom and, 
one by one, the freedom of her three children, paying alto 
gether 125 sterling. 189 Samuel Jackson saved enough to 
purchase in 1815 the freedom of his wife and two chil 
dren. 100 Arthur Lee, of Alleghany County, displayed a per 
severance and an ability to economize that is not often sur 
passed by laboring men of any race or condition. For six 
teen years he was the slave of a man named Brown, who 
lived in North Carolina, but he was permitted to remain in 
Virginia on the condition that he pay his owner one hundred 
dollars per annum. Having paid, at this rate, sixteen hun 
dred dollars by 1835, ne purchased his freedom, paying his 
owner five hundred dollars for his future liberty. Not sat 
isfied, he immediately set to work to earn three hundred and 
fifty dollars with which to purchase his wife s freedom. 
This done, he procured the signatures of one hundred and 
seventy-six citizens of Alleghany County to his humble peti 
tion to the legislature for a law granting to him and his wife 
a legal right to reside in the Commonwealth, that he might 
continue to ply the honorable trade of a blacksmith. 191 As 
to the character for industry of Billy Williams, forty-seven 

188 Professor Dew admitted, or, we might say, contended that the 
Virginia free negro was more orderly and well behaved than the 
free negro of the Northern States. In the North, he said, the negro 
was taught arrogance and equality. In the South he was made to 
understand his place and to occupy it humbly (pp. 85, 87). 

189 Hening, vol. xiii, p. 618. 

190 MS. Petitions, Fauquier County, 1815, A 5760. 

191 MS. Petitions, Alleghany County, 1835, A 666. 


citizens of Campbell County said: "We are his neighbors 
and are willing and indeed desirous that the legislature pass 
the law permitting him to remain in the state, as he is not 
only an honest, prosperous man, but in truth a most useful 
and accommodating man to his neighbors and all with whom 
he has anything to do. A farmer by occupation and owns 
loo acres of land." 192 Examples could be multiplied indefi 
nitely in contradiction of indiscriminating indictments, such, 
for instance, as that made by Governor Smith when he char 
acterized the free colored population as a " race of idlers, 
thriftless and unproductive/ 103 The exaggerated and often 
self-contradictory character of the statements of coloniza 
tion zealots will best appear by a quotation from a widely 
circulated memorial 184 to the legislature: 

Their idleness is proverbial ; they live, few know in what way and 
fewer where. . . . Whatever energy can be spared from annoying 
both classes [slave and white] is expended in multiplying their own 

And yet this same individual, the pest of the land which gives him 
only birth, when transported to a seat where his industry may have 
excitement and object becomes the active, thriving, and happy citizen 
of Liberia. 195 

Rigorous and discriminatory as were the laws of Virginia 
enacted for the purpose of controlling that presumably law- 

192 MS. Petitions, Campbell County, 1851, A 3684. 

193 House Journal, 1847-1848, p. 20. 

194 MS. Petitions, Henrico County, 1831, A 9431. See also me 
morial of the Auxiliary Colonization Society of Buckingham County, 
in MS. Petitions, Buckingham County, 1832, A 3080. A memorial 
of the Fairfax Colonization Society read : " Pursuing no course of 
regular business and negligent of everything like economy and 
husbandry they are a part of the community supported by the in 
dustry of others" (MS. Petitions, Fairfax County, 1832, A 5578). 

195 With this picture of what the Virginia colonizers professed to 
think the free negro would become in Liberia may be compared 
what citizens of Somerset County, Maryland, thought of the Vir 
ginia free negroes who had come into Maryland from Virginia 
after the law of 1806 made the residence of certain ones illegal 
in Virginia: "We reap not the rewards or fruits of our labor . . . 
all is snatched from us by that curse of God s Creation, the de 
graded free negro ... he toils not neither does he spin, yet like 
Dives he fares sumptuously and is arrayed in purple and fine linen 
and well he may, for he appropriates to his own use the labors of 
the entire white population" (MS. Petitions to Maryland Legisla 
ture, in Maryland Historical Society, portfolio 7, no. 28). 


less, disorderly and vicious member of society, the free 
negro, they fail in some respects to reveal the extent to 
which he was subjected to surveillance and discipline, while 
in other respects they represent a harsher treatment than he 
actually received. In the nineteenth century there existed 
a law for keeping watch over and controlling the conduct 
of free negroes not found among the statutes or supported 
by legal precedents. Its sanction was in community senti 
ment, and its name was lynch-law. The practice before the 
Civil War of policing the free negroes by self-appointed 
bailiffs was the historical antecedent of the Ku Klux Klan 
of reconstruction days, although there was not the same 
degree of organization and not so wide a gap between local 
sentiment and legal administration before as during that 

Prostitution and vice among the free colored population 
.were frequently dealt with by methods not approved by 
law. For example, in Amelia County in 1821 the inmates 
of houses of ill repute were visited and chastized by a party 
of disguised white men. 196 Although a fine was imposed 
upon at least one of the persons connected with this raid, 
the state of sentiment favorable to the method of procedure 
is seen in the effort made by half a hundred of the local resi 
dents to have the convicted man released from his fine. 
General Brodnax, speaking from the floor of the legislature 
in 1832, was not challenged upon the assertion that such 
methods of getting rid of undesirable free negroes were of 
common occurrence. " Who does not know," said he, " that 
when a free negro, by crime or otherwise, has rendered him 
self obnoxious to a neighborhood, how easy it is for a party 
to visit him one night, take him from his bed and family, 
and apply to him the gentle admonition of a severe flagella 
tion, to induce him to go away. In a few nights the dose 
can be repeated, perhaps increased, until, in the language 
of the physicians, quantum suff has been administered . . . 

186 MS. Petitions, Amelia County, 1821, A 781. 


and the fellow becomes perfectly willing to go away." 197 
So commonly was lynch-law of this character resorted to by 
the whites in prevailing upon free negroes to yield to their 
wishes that one argument strongly urged in 1832 in favor 
of a law authorizing the use of force in carrying out a colo 
nization scheme was the necessity of shielding the negroes 
from the cruelty of private intimidation and compulsion. 198 
William Miles Cuffee, a free negro born in 1839, now living 
at Hickory Ground, Virginia, tells how in 1859, upon a 
rumor of insurrection, whites assembled in bands to intimi 
date and frighten the free negroes in the community. Ac 
cording to his report, he remained hidden in the woods for 
about three days and nights while the raids were being con 
ducted against persons of his class. 

While local sentiment often permitted the authority of the 
law to be exceeded or ignored by individuals self-appointed 
to discipline and punish free negroes, it no less frequently 
permitted laws to remain unenforced. Speaking of the laws 
which forbade free negroes to move from one town or 
locality to another and to assemble in considerable numbers 
and of those which compelled them to submit to search of 
their houses and persons by patrols, a writer in the Richmond 
Enquirer declared that " these provisions and many other 
laws on this subject are so much at variance with the feel 
ings of our citizens that in many parts of the state they are 
merely a dead letter. ... So long as our humanity prepon 
derates over our fears, so long will those laws be very par 
tially and feebly executed." 19 * 

The same writer clearly discerns and explains the reason 
why legislation dealing with the free negroes outran execu 
tion: "As legislators, impressed with the jeopardy that 
threatens the public safety, men readily give their assent to 

L9T Richmond Enquirer, February 14, 1832. Compare Jay, Slavery 
in America, p. 45. 

198 Speech of Mr. Chandler, in the Richmond Enquirer, February 
14, 1832. General Brodnax said that he understood that the consent 
of the emigrants in a cargo which had recently set sail for Africa 
was obtained by private compulsion. 
, 189 Richmond Enquirer, October 8, 1805. 


any measure that seems calculated to protect it, but when 
they return to the bosom of their families and are sur 
rounded by those among whom they were born and nursed 
and from whose labor they obtain the means of comfort and 
independence the sentiments of the legislator are frequently 
lost in the feelings of humanity and affection in the private 

An illustration of this fact is seen in the operation of that 
law which directed emancipated slaves to leave the State 
within twelve months from the date of their emancipation. 
Henry Howe said in 1845 tnat " these laws, and every other 
having the appearance of rigor . . . are nearly dead letters 
upon our statute books, unless during times of excitement, 
or since the efforts of the abolitionists have reanimated 
them. I have, until lately, scarcely known an instance in 
which they have been enforced." 200 Petitions were con 
tinually being sent to the legislature by white persons com 
plaining "that the law requiring the removal [of ex-slaves] 
is in its operation perfectly nugatory." 201 

In certain localities, however, and at certain times the law 
was rendered in some measure effective. The act was a 
penal statute, depending upon local officials for its execu 
tion; hence enforcement was not uniform as to times and 
places. The appearance of the successive census reports 
showing the rapid increase and accumulation of the free 
negroes in the State usually gave rise to some zeal for pro 
ceeding against free negroes who remained in violation of 
the law. 202 The number and the deportment of these ne 
groes in a community went far toward determining the 
length to which the local officials would go in prosecuting 
them. In the counties of western Virginia, where but few 
negroes resided, almost no use was made of this law. In 

200 Historical Collections of Virginia, p. 157. 

201 MS. Petitions, Hampshire County, 1836, A 7904; Loudoun 
County, 1836, B 1849; Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, 1847, B 1952. 

202 " The excitement which now prevails will in a little while en 
tirely subside and you will see things move on just as they have 
done until the next census, when we shall again begin to stir and 
flutter for awhile" (Richmond Whig, December n, 1845). 


most of the eastern counties the prescribed penalty sale 
into slavery was so much at variance with sentiment that 
grand juries usually refused to indict, or attorneys refusecl 
to prosecute, violators of the law. 203 When indictments 
were made, the cases were continued from time to time or 
finally dismissed. 204 

When arrests, prosecutions, and sales of free negroes were 
made, the object was usually to make examples of some that 
all others might take warning and leave the community. 
The overseers of the poor of Accomac County held a meet 
ing in 1825, and determined to make an example of one 
negro, thinking that they would by this means be spared 
the necessity of selling as slaves the free negroes who had 
become unlawful residents under the act of i8o6. 205 A 
negro named Jack Bagwell was the unlucky victim ; but a 
single example was not sufficient to induce all other free 
negroes liable to sale to quit the community, and at a meet 
ing held the following year the Board of Overseers ordered 
that notice be posted throughout the county " that the Over 
seers of the Poor . . . will sell one free negro in each dis 
trict of this county for every month from this date." 206 

In pursuance of the order, seven negroes were sold into 
slavery on June 5, 1826. The maximum price received for 
any one of the seven freemen was thirty-six dollars and 
fifty cents. The fact that some of them brought so low a 
price as one dollar creates a doubt as to whether the pur 
chasers expected to force them into bondage or whether 
they did not intend to allow them to escape from the neigh 
borhood. In 1839 Richard Rew purchased at the price of 
five hundred and thirty dollars a free negro who had lived 
in Virginia contrary to law since his manumission in 1819. 

203 MS. Orders of Northampton County, 1831-1836, pp. 136, 147, 
505; MS. Petitions, Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, 1847, B 1952; 
Frederick County, 1828, A 6495. 

1 " By this mode, they were annually before the court, their 
cases called and continued and in this evasive way, they spent the 
remainder of their days in their old communities" (T. K. Cartmell, 
Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants, p. 521). 

205 MS. Petitions, Accomac County, 1825, A 91. 

206 Ibid, 1826, A 80. 


The negro made good his escape to New York, and Rew, 
who had paid a high price for him, expecting to subject him 
to actual bondage, appealed earnestly but in vain to the 
legislature for a refunding of the purchase money. 207 

Even such a timid and spasmodic enforcement of this law 
as these instances represent rendered the condition of a 
great number of free negroes anomalous and insecure. Not 
only those negroes emancipated after 1806, but also their 
posterity were liable to be sold as slaves, and many deserv 
ing negroes were forced to appeal to the humanity of their 
white neighbors to save them from banishment or sale. In 
1834 Titus Brown, whose hair was white with age, related 
how he and his wife, childless and almost as old as he, had 
been "ordered to depart from the Commonwealth." 208 It 
was not often that a free negro of fair character was unable, 
even in times of excitement, to get his white neighbors to 
intercede in his behalf. These could usually bring about a 
relaxation of energy in the prosecution, or, as in the case of 
Archy Carey, they might " agree that so long as his conduct 
comports with his recommendation they will not enforce the 
law against him." 209 If in this way they could not render 
secure a negro threatened with sale or banishment, his white 
sympathizers would often draft earnest appeals to the hu 
manity of the legislators, and procure to these petitions hun 
dreds of white subscribers. Very frequently the legislature 
was moved to pass acts excepting certain free negroes from 
the operation of the law. 210 In some such way were toler 
ated nearly all ex-slaves who ventured to assume the risk of 
losing their freedom. It was asked in the House of Dele 
gates in 1832 why the laws providing for the banishment or 
sale of certain free negroes had not been carried out. The 
answer was : " Because its provisions were in violation of 
the feelings of the people. A thousand such laws would 

207 House Journal, 1839-1840, p. 205. 

208 MS. Petitions, Loudoun County, 1834, B 1830. 

"MS. Petitions, Campbell County, 1830, A 1013. 
210 For examples, see Acts, 1821-1822, p. 84; 1833-1834, p. 316; 
1834-1835, p. 240; or Acts of any year from 1812 to 1848. 


fall to the ground and be inoperative for lack of public sen 
timent." 211 The same explanation was given by Governor 
Wise in his message to the legislature in 1857. " It would 
be more humane and more just," he said, " to sell them 
wholesale into slavery " than to force upon them dispersion 
and extinction in the cold climate of the free States; "but 
the moral sense of our people would revolt at a violation of 
individual and personal rights like this and no such usurpa 
tion would be tolerated by public sentiment." 212 

m Richmond Enquirer, February 14, 1832. 
212 House Documents, no. I, 1857, p. 151. 



Lack of space necessitates the omission from this list of 
a large number of secondary authorities having bearing 
upon, but not contemporary with, some portion of the period 
treated in this monograph. Footnote references to the 
most useful of the works of postbellum writers touching 
the subject herein treated must suffice to show the extent 
of the author s indebtedness to authorities. With the ex 
ception of a few county or local histories having special 
value because of their limited territorial scope, only primary 
sources are here enumerated. 


A. COUNTY COURT RECORDS, Orders, Deeds, Wills, Inventories, and 

so forth ; certified copies transcribed from the original records 
in pursuance of an act of the Virginia State Legislature and 
preserved in the Virginia State Library in Richmond, Virginia. 
19 vols., folio: 

1. Accomac County, 1632-1640, 1676-1690. 

2. Elizabeth City County, 1684-1699. 

3. Essex County, 1695-1699. 

4. Henrico County, 1677-1692, 1682-1701. 

5. Warwick County, 1748-1762. 

6. York County, 1633-1694, 1638-1648, 1657-1662, 1664-1672, 

1675-1684, 1677-1692, 1677-1699, 1684-1687, 1687-1691, 1690- 
1694, 1694-1702, 1694-1697. 

B. COUNTY COURT RECORDS, Orders, Deeds, Wills, and so forth; 

original records : 

1. Henrico County, various volumes, 1776-1860, in County Court 

House, Richmond, Virginia. 

2. Lower Norfolk and Norfolk County, 1637-1646, 1646-1651, 

1686-1695, and various volumes, 1700-1860, in Norfolk 
County Court House, Portsmouth, Virginia. 

In this county free negroes and mulattoes were registered 
in volumes kept for that purpose only : vol. i, 1802-1852 ; 
vol. 2, 1852-1861. Concerning each free negro registered 
by the county court clerk there was recorded the answer 
to the following queries: Name, How free, Age, Height, 
Complexion, Marks or Scars. Each negro was numbered 
and the date of his registration recorded. 

3. Northampton County, 1632-1640, 1640-1645, 1645-1651, 1651- 

1654, 1654-1655, 1655-1658, 1657-1664, 1683-1689, 1689-1698, 
1710-1720, and various volumes, 1720-1860. 


Records of the Hustings Court, Richmond, Virginia, vari 
ous volumes, 1782-1860. 

Ordinances of the City of Richmond, 3 vols., 1804-1860. 


At Episcopal Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia : 

1. Register of Christ s Church, Middlesex County, Virginia, 


2. Register of Kingston Parish, Mathews County, Virginia, 

1674-18 . 

3. Vestry Book of Charles Parish, York County, Virginia, 1670- 

At Bruton Church, Williamsburg, Virginia : 

4. Register of Middletown and Bruton Parishes, 1662-1797. 
At Library of William and Mary College, Williamsburg: 

5. Register of Abingdon Parish, transcribed by Lyon G. Tyler. 

6. Register of Charles Parish, 1648-1800, transcribed for Li 

brary of William and Mary College. 

D. RECORDS OF FRIENDS MEETINGS, at Park Avenue Meeting House, 

Baltimore, Maryland. 

1. Minutes of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting held at West River 

and Third Haven, 3 vols., 1677-1758, 1754-1764, 1798-1821. 

2. Condensed record of the action of yearly meetings on ques 

tions relating to slavery and the slave trade, 1760-1819. 

3. Minutes of the Warrenton and Fairfax Quarterly Meeting, 


4. Minutes of the Warrenton and Fairfax Quarterly Meeting of 

Women Friends, 1775-1787. 

5. Minutes of the Warrenton Quarterly Meeting, 1787-1801. 

6. Minutes of the Fairfax Quarterly Meeting, 1787-1850. 

7. Minutes of Crooked Run Monthly Meeting, 1782-1789. 

8. Minutes of Fairfax Monthly Meeting: vol. A, 1745-1776; vol. 

B, 1776-1802; vol. C, 1802-1845. 

9. Minutes of Hopewell Monthly Meeting: bk. i, 1759-1777; bk. 

2, 1777-1791; bk. 3, 1791-1811; bk. 4, 1811-1851. 
10. Minutes and Proceedings of Goose Creek Monthly Meeting, 
1785-1818; 1818-18 . 

E. Records of the General Court of Virginia, transcribed by Con- 

way Robinson, 1640-1661, 1670-1676. Virginia Historical So 

F. Legislative Petitions of Virginia, 1776-1860. 

This collection of original manuscript documents, one of the 
most important sources of this monograph, is preserved in the 
archives of the State and is divided into as many groups 
as there were counties from which the petitions or memorials 
originated. The arrangement within the county groups is 
with reference to chronology. Fifteen thousand five hundred 
documents are catalogued and arranged in the archives in 
upright filing cases, each document being assigned to a stiff 
folder, folio size, having upon it a letter and a number which 
distinguishes it from every other document in the files. The 
numbers run in two series, A and B. Series A runs from I 
to 10,000. Series B is complete from I to 5500; and the two 
series combined cover the counties from Accomac to Orange. 
The county groups from P to Y inclusive are wrapped sepa 
rately in bundles, awaiting the systematic arrangement of the 


other county groups. In most instances double reference by 
date and by number has been made in the footnotes of this 
monograph to the petitions that are filed in the cases. Little 
if any use has been made, up to this time, of this, one of the 
richest sources for Virginia history during the period of the 
Commonwealth. The documents contain invaluable informa 
tion about almost every subject that was of interest to the 
people of the various localities of the State within the period 

G. Virginia Land Patents, folio, vols. I and 2, 1623-1643; vol. 3 
1643-1651; vol. 4, 1652-1655; vol. 5, 1655-1664; vol. 6, 1666- 
1679. Land Office, Richmond. 

H. Tax Books (for various counties), 1856-60. Auditor s Office, 

I. Transcripts made from original papers in the British Public 
Record Office, London. By Angus W. MacDonald, 7 vols., 
1619-1695; containing abstracts or complete transcripts of 581 
documents relating to the settlement and early history of 
Virginia. By William Noel Sainsbury, 20 vols., 1606-1740; 
containing abstracts of 5108 documents relating to early Vir 
ginia history. Virginia State Library. 

J. Letter Book of the Executive of Virginia, 1844-1848, folio. Vir 
ginia State Library. 

K. Proclamation Book; containing the proclamations of the Gov 
ernors of Virginia from 1786 to Aug. 31, 1801. Virginia State 

L. Land Books of the City of Richmond, 1856-1860. City Hall, 


1. Statutes at Large of Virginia, 13 vols., 1619-1792. By William 

Waller Hening. Richmond, 1819-1820. 

2. Statutes at Large of Virginia, 3 vols., 1792-1807. By Samuel 

Sheppard. Richmond, 1835-1836. 

Being an addition to Hening s Statutes, these three volumes 
are referred to in this monograph as vols. xiv, xv, and xvi 
of Hening. 

3. Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, 1807-1865. 

4. Statutes at large of the Confederate States of America, 1861- 

1864, including both public and private acts and resolutions. 
Edited by James M. Mathews. Richmond, 1864. 

5. Revised Code of Laws of Virginia, 2 vols. Richmond, 1819. 

6. Supplement to the Revised Code of the Laws of Virginia. Rich 

mond, 1833. 

7. Code of Virginia. Richmond, 1849. 

8. Code of Virginia. Richmond, 1860. 

9. Constitutions of Virginia, 1776, 1830, 1851. 

10. Reports of Cases Determined in the General Court and the Su 
preme Court of Appeals of Virginia : 
(a) By Thomas Jefferson, I vol., 1730-1740 and 1768-1772. 
(&) By Bushrod Washington, 2 vols., 1790-1796. 

(c) By Daniel Call, 6 vols., 1790-1825. 

(d) By William W. Hening and William Munford, 4 vols., 


O) By William Munford, 6 vols., 1809-1820. 

(/) By Francis W. Gilmer, I vol., 1820-1821. 

(g) By Peyton Randolph, 6 vols., 1821-1828. 

(/i) By Benjamin Watkins Leigh, 12 vols., 1829-1842. 

() By Conway Robinson, 2 vols., 1842-1844. 

(/) By Peachy R. Grattan, 16 vols., 1844-1865. 

(&) Virginia Colonial Decisions. The Reports by Sir John 
Randolph and Edward Barradall of Decisions of the Gen 
eral Court of Virginia, 2 vols., 1728-1741. Edited by R. T. 
Barton. Boston, 1909. 


1. Journals of the House of Burgesses, 1727-1776, 8 vols. Edited 

by H. R. Mcllwaine, 1905-1910. 

2. Journals of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of 

Virginia, 1776-1865. [Journals for May session of 1782 and 
session of 1796 are missing.] Richmond. 

3. Journals of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1778- 

1865. [Missing Journals: 1780-1784, 1791-1799, 1802-1828, 
1836-1838, 1854-1855, 1856-1860.] Richmond. 

4. Proceedings of the Convention of Delegates for the Counties and 

Corporations of the Colony of Virginia, held at Richmond 
Town, in the County of Henrico, 1775. Richmond, 1816. 

5. Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention of 

1829-1830. Edited by Ritchie and Cook. Richmond, 1830. 

6. Journal, Acts, and Proceedings of a General Convention of the 

State of Virginia, 1850. Richmond. 

7. Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of Amer 

ica, 1861-1865. In 7 vols. Issued as Senate Document No. 
234, 58th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington, 1904. 

8. Documents of the House of Delegates, containing the messages 

of the Governors to the General Assemblies and annual re 
ports of the public officers of the State, and of boards of direc 
tors, visitors, superintendents, and other supervisors of pub 
lic institutions of Virginia, 1814-1865. 

9. Documents of the Senate, containing bills introduced and passed 

by the Senate, reports of commissions and various other state 
papers, 1831-1865. 

10. Colonial Records of Virginia (1619-1680). Issued as State Sen 

ate Document, Extra, 1874. Richmond. 

11. A Collection of the Official Publications of the Confederate 

States Government. Virginia State Library. 

12. The Federal Censuses of the United States, 1790 to 1860, vol 

umes on population. 



1. The Richmond Examiner and Argus, August, i8oo-Febru- 

ary, 1801. 

2. The Virginia Argus, Richmond, February, i8o4-December, 


3. The Daily Dispatch, Richmond, 1852-1865. 

4. The Enquirer, Richmond, May, i8o4-December, 1864. 


5. The Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg, January, 1767-Decem- 

ber, 1768; January, I77i-December, 1777; February, 1779- 
December, 1779. 

6. The Virginia Gazette and General Advertizer, Richmond, 

March, I79i-December, 1809. 

7. The Norfolk and Portsmouth Herald, January-December, 


8. The Constitutional Whig and The Daily Richmond Whig, 

Richmond, 1824-1865. 

9. The Recorder, Richmond, 1802-1803. 

10. The Virginia Gazette and the American Advertizer, Rich 

mond, January, 1782-December, 1794. 

11. The Enquirer, Richmond, 1804-1805 [contain numbers ex 

amined to supplement files in Virginia State Library]. 


1. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Edited by 

R. A. Brock. Vols. i to v. Edited by William G. Stanard, 
vols. vi-xix. Richmond, 1893-1911. 

2. The William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine. 

Edited by Lyon G. Tyler. Vols. i-xix. Williamsburg, 1892- 

3. Calendar of Virginia State Papers. Edited by William P. Pal 

mer. Vols. i-xi. Richmond, 1875. 

4. Collections of the Virginia Historical Society, New Series. 

Edited by R. A. Brock. Vols. i-xx. Richmond, 1882-1891. 

The above serial publications are really source books of Vir 
ginia history. They make available in published form many 
original and valuable manuscripts from collections in the Vir 
ginia Historical Society, the Virginia State Archives, county 
archives, and in the possession of private individuals. 

5. The Commercial Review of the South and West. A monthly 

journal of trade, etc. Edited by J. D. B. DeBow. Vols. 
i-xxxi. New Orleans, 1846-1861. 

6. The Virginia Historical Register and Literary Advertizer. Edited 

by William Maxwell. Vols. i-vi. Richmond, 1848-1853. 

Contains extracts from "records, journals, diaries, letters, 
inscriptions and other relics of the olden time. " 

7. The Lower Norfolk County Virginia Antiquary. Edited by Ed 

ward Wilson James. Vols. i-v. Norfolk, 1897-1906. 

Contains abstracts and gleanings from official records of 
churches and courts of Lower Norfolk and Princess Anne 

8. Virginia County Records. Published quarterly by the Genealog 

ical Association, New York City. William Armstrong Croz- 
ier, editor. Vols. i-vii. 

These volumes contain abstracts of wills and extracts from 
other county and probate court records such as orders, mar 
riage bonds, and land grants. 

9. The African Repository and Colonial Journal. Vols. i-xxv. 

Published by the American Colonization Society. Washing 
ton, 1825-1850. 



1. The Vestry Book and Register of Bristol Parish, Virginia, 

1720-1789. Transcribed and published by C. G. Chamberlayne. 
Richmond, 1898. 

2. Register of Christ s Church, Middlesex County, Virginia, 1653- 

1812. Published by the National Society of the Colonial 
Dames of America in the State of Virginia. Richmond, 1897. 

3. The Vestry Book of Henrico Parish, Virginia, 1730-1773, from 

the original MS. By R. A. Brock. Richmond, 1874. 

4. Register of St. Peter s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia, 1680- 

1787. Published by the National Society of the Colonial 
Dames of America in the State of Virginia. Richmond, 1904. 

5. Vestry Book of Saint Peter s Parish, New Kent County, Vir 

ginia. Published by the National Society of Colonial Dames 
of America in the State of Virginia. Richmond, 1904. 

6. Papers Relating to the History of the Church in Virginia, 

1650-1776. Edited by William S. Perry. Privately printed. 

7. BAGBY, REV. ALFRED. King and Queen County, Virginia. New 

York and Washington, 1908. 

8. BRUCE, THOMAS. Southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Val 

ley. Richmond, 1891. 

9. BURTON, REV. L. W. Annals of Henrico Parish, Diocese of Vir 

ginia and especially of St. John s Church, 1611-1884. Rich 
mond, 1904. 

10. CARTMELL, T. K. Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their De 

scendants. A History of Frederick County, Virginia, from 
its formation in 1738 to 1908. Compiled mainly from orig 
inal records of old Frederick County, now Hampshire, Berke 
ley, Shenandoah, Jefferson, Hardy, Clarke, Warren, Morgan, 
and Frederick. Privately published by the author, 1909. 

11. GOODWIN, REV. W. A. R. Historical Sketch of Bruton Church, 

Williamsburg, Virginia. Williamsburg, 1903. 

12. WISE, JENNINGS CROPPER. Ye Kingdome of Accawmacke; or, 

the Eastern Shore of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century. 
Richmond, 1911. 

13. WOODS, REV. EDGAR. Albemarle County in Virginia, giving some 

account of what it was by nature, of what it was made by man, 
and of some of the men who made it. Charlottesville, 1901. 


1. ALEXANDER, ARCHIBALD. A History of Colonization on the 

Western Coast of Africa. Philadelphia, 1849. 

2. ANDREWS, E. A. Slavery and the Domestic Slave Trade in the 

United States. In a series of letters addressed to the ex 
ecutive committee of the American Union for the relief and 
improvement of the colored race. Boston, 1836. 


Aug. 7, I77i-Dec. 7, 1815. 3 vols. New York, 1821. 

4. ASHMUM, J. History of the African Colony in Liberia, from 

December, 1821 to 1823. Compiled from the authentic records 
of the colony. Washington, 1826. 
Bound in " Slavery Pamphlets," in Virginia State Library. 


5. BEVERLY, ROBERT. The History and Present State of Virginia, 

in four parts. By a native and inhabitant of the place. Lon 
don, 1705. 

6. BULLOCK, WILLIAM, GENT. Virginia impartially examined and 

left to the publick view to be considered by all iudicious and 
honest men, etc. London, 1649. Pp. 66. 

7. BURK, JOHN. The History of Virginia from its first settlement 

to the present day. n vols. Petersburg, Virginia, 1804-1816. 

8. BURNABY, ANDREW. Travels Through the Middle settlements of 

North America, in the years 1759 and 1760. Pp. 52. 
In Pinkerton, J., Voyages, vol. 13. 

9. " CALX." Two Great Evils of Virginia and their one Common 


A pamphlet written September 17, 1859, and printed by 
John W. Randolph of Richmond. Pp. 18. 

One of the evils referred to was the free negro and the 
other was the seduction of slaves by abolitionists. Bound in 
" Political Pamphlets," vol. 12, in Virginia State Library. 

10. CHASE, A. M., AND SANBORN, CHARLES W. A Statistical View of 

the Condition of the Free and Slave States. Compiled from 
official documents. Boston, 1856. 

11. CHASTELLUX, FRANCOIS JEAN. Travels in North America in the 

years 1780-82. Translated from the French by an English 
gentleman who resided in America at that period. 2 vols. 
London, 1787. 

12. DABNEY, PROF. ROBERT L. A Defence of Virginia in Recent and 

Pending Contests against the Sectional Party. New York, 

13. DEW, THOMAS R. Review of the Debates in the Virginia Legis 

lature of 1831-32. Richmond, 1832. 

14. FITZHUGH, GEORGE. What shall be done with the Free Negroes. 

Four essays written for the Fredericksburg Recorder, 1851. 
This is a biased argument in favor of reducing free negroes 
to slavery. 

15. Sociology for the South, or The Failure of Free Society. 

Richmond, 1854. 

16. FORCE, PETER. Tracts and Other Papers, relating principally to 

the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies of North 
America, from the discovery of the country to the year 1776. 
4 vols. Washington, 1836-1846. 

17. GARLAND, HUGH A. The Life of John Randolph of Roanoke. 

2 vols. New York, 1851. 

18. GODWYN, MORGAN. Negro s and Indian s Advocate suing for 

their Admission into the Church: For a persuasive to the in 
structing and baptizing of the Negroes and Indians in our 
Plantations, To which is added a brief account of religion in 
Virginia. London, 1680. Pp. 174. 

19. . A Supplement to the Negro s and Indian s Advocate, or 

some further considerations and proposals for the effectual 
and speedy carrying on of the Negro s Christianity in our 
plantations without any prejudice to their owners. London, 
1681. Pp. 12. 

20. GOODELL, WILLIAM. The American Slave Code in theory and 
practice: Its distinctive features shown by its statutes, judicial 
decisions, and illustrative facts. Fourth edition. New York, 


21. HAMMOND, JOHN. Leah and Rachel, or the Two Fruitfull Sis 

ters Virginia, and Mary-Land: Their Present Condition, Im 
partially stated and related. London, 1656. 

22. HARTWELL, BLAIR, AND CHILTON. The Present State of Virginia 

and the College. London, 1727. Pp. 95. 

23. HILDRETH, RICHARD. The History of the United States of 

America from the discovery of the continent to the organiza 
tion of the government under the Federal Constitution. 1497- 
1789. Revised edition. 3 vols. New York, 1856. 

24. HOWE, HENRY. Historical Collections of Virginia. Charleston, 

S. C, 1852. 

25. HOWISON, ROBERT R. A History of Virginia from its Discovery 

and Settlement by Europeans to the Present Time. 2 vols. 
Richmond, 1848. 

26. JAY, WILLIAM. Miscellaneous writings on Slavery. Boston, 


27. . Slavery in America : or An Inquiry into the character 

and tendency of the American Colonization and the American 
Anti-Slavery Societies. London, 1835. 

28. JEFFERSON, THOMAS. Writings. Edited by P. L. Ford. 10 vols. 
New York, 1892-1899. 

29. . Notes on the State of Virginia with an appendix. Third 

American edition. New York, 1801. 

30. LEIGH, BENJAMIN WATKINS. The letter of Appomattox to the 
People of Virginia exhibiting a connected view of the recent 
proceedings in the House of Delegates on the subject of aboli 
tion of slavery; and a succinct account of the doctrines 
broached by the friends of abolition in debate; and the mis 
chievous tendencies of those proceedings and doctrines. 
Richmond, 1832. 

31. . Virginia Slavery Debate. Richmond, 1832. 

Contains nine of the speeches delivered by members of the 
House of Delegates of 1831-1832 on the policy of the State 
in relation to her colored population, and the Letter of Appo 
mattox to the People of Virginia. 

32. MADISON, JAMES. Letters and other Writings of James Madison. 

In four volumes, published by order of Congress, 1769-1836. 
New York, 1884. 

33. MONROE, JAMES. The Writings of James Monroe, including a 

collection of his public aad private papers and correspondence 
now for the first time printed (1778-1831). Edited by S. M. 
Hamilton. 7 vols. New York, 1898-1903. 

34. NEILL, EDWARD D. History of the Virginia Company of London, 

with letters to and from the first colony never before printed. 
Albany, N. Y., 1869. 

35. OLMSTEAD, FREDERICK LAW. A Journey in the Seaboard Slave 

States, with remarks on their economy. New York, 1856. 

36. ROWLAND, KATE MASON. The life of George Mason, 1725-1792. 

Including his Speeches, Public Papers, and Correspondence; 
with an Introduction by General Fitzhugh Lee. 2 vols. New 
York, 1892. 

37. RUFFIN, EDMUND. African Colonization Unveiled. By Edmund 

Ruffin. Washington [1859?]. Pp. 32. Virginia State Library. 
38. . The Political Economy of Slavery, or the institution con 
sidered in regard to its influence on public wealth and the 


general welfare, with an appendix on the influence of slavery, 
or of its absence, on manners, morals, and intellect. 1852. 
Pp. 32. 

39. SCHOOLCRAFT, HENRY R. Information respecting the History, 

Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United 
States. 5 vols. Philadelphia, 1855. 

40. SLAUGHTER, PHILIP. Virginia History of African Colonization. 

Richmond, 1855. 

41. SMITH, CAPT. JOHN. Works, 1608-1631. Edited by Edward 

Arber. Birmingham, England, 1884. 

42. STITH, WILLIAM. The history of the first discovery and settle 

ment of Virginia : being an essay towards a general history of 
this colony. Williamsburg, Virginia, 1747. 

43. STRINGFELLOW, B. F. Negro Slavery no Evil ; or the North and 

the South. A report to the Platte county self-defence asso 
ciation, St. Louis: 1854. Pp. 38. 

Bound in " Slavery Pamphlets " in the library of William 
and Mary College. 

44. STROUD, GEORGE M. A Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery 

in the Several States of America. Philadelphia, 1827. 

45. TUCKER, GEORGE. Progress of The United States in Population 

and Wealth in fifty years, as exhibited by the decennial Cen 
sus from 1790 to 1840. New York, 1855. 

46. TUCKER, ST. GEORGE. A Dissertation on Slavery with a proposal 

for the gradual abolition of it in the State of Virginia. Phil 
adelphia, 1796. Pp. 106. 

A second edition was printed in 1803 as an appendix to the 
author s Commentaries on Blackstone. 

47. A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans ; Shewing it 

to be the Duty and Interest of the American States to eman 
cipate all their African Slaves. With an Address to the 
owners of such Slaves, New York, 1785. Norwich, 1796. 
A rare pamphlet in Virginia State Library. 

48. Political Pamphlets. 

A collection of 45 bound volumes of miscellaneous pamph 
lets, most of which refer to political events immediately pre 
ceding or during the Civil War, in Virginia State Library. 

49. Views of American Slavery, taken a century ago. Anthony 

Benzet, John Wesley, etc. Philadelphia, 1858. 

This pamphlet contains a miscellaneous collection of views 
of slavery in the eighteenth century. It is important on man 
umission sentiment in Virginia. 


Aberdeen, a slave set free, 62. 

Abolition Society, the Virginia, 
58 n. 

Abolitionists, attacks of, 79; ef 
forts of, reanimate harsh laws, 

Adams, John, Mayor of Rich 
mond, 142. 

Adams, Ned, free negro, 153. 

Africans, first brought to Vir 
ginia, 16. 

Anglican church, aid of, to ne 
groes, 40, 41 ; labors to edu 
cate them, 138. 

Angus, Judith, free negress, 
owns two slaves, 93 ; will of, 

Anthony, negro in Virginia in 
1623, 24, 24 n. 

Apprentices, free negro, 40, 41 ; 
to be given instruction, 138, 
I 39>" opposition to, 149, 149 n. 

"Aristocracy," negro, 133-135- 

Bacon, Nathaniel, sr., will of, 51. 

Bagwell, Jack, free negro sold 
into slavery, 175. 

Ballagh, Dr. J. C, 18, 18 n., 20. 

Bancroft, George, 121. 

Banishment, penalty upon white 
persons marrying negroes, 124; 
of slaves freed after 1806, 70; 
spasmodic enforcement of law 
requiring, 174 et seq. 

Baptism, of free negroes, 12, 
12 n.; of slaves does not be 
stow freedom, 137. 

Baptists, favorable toward manu 
mission, 58; offer education 
and Christianity to negroes, 
141-143 ; African churches, 143. 

Barbers, free negro, 151. 

Barlow, Betsey, manumits and 
renames two slaves, 84 n. 

Barnhouse, Anne, discharges a 
negro servant, 48. 

Barr, John, will of, setting slaves 
free, 44. 

Beasley, Thomas, petitions to be 
allowed to use firelock, 97. 

Berkeley, Governor, estimate of 
black population of Virginia, 

Beverly, Robert, 18; defines over 
seer, 38. 

Bilberry, Benjamin, slave of, set 
free by act of legislature, 44. 

Bill of Rights, appealed to in be 
half of negroes, 61 ; principles 
of, interpreted by courts, 98. 

Binford, William, last will of, 
56 n., 61. 

Bird, Samuel, a free mulatto, 65. 

Black masters, or free negro 
slave-owners, 78, 90-94. 

Bledsoe, A. T., defends slavery, 

Bowlagh, Lewis, free negro, in 
War of 1812, in; gave infor 
mation concerning plot, 169. 

Brady, Daniel, free negro, sur 
rendered by his father to stand 
trial, 169. 

Brodnax, General, on deporta 
tion of free negroes, 90, 172, 
173 n. ; on constitutional rights 
of free negroes, 122. 

Brown, Titus, free negro, 176. 

Bruce, Thomas, 133. 

Bruton parish, free negroes in, 

Burdett, William, inventory of 
estate, 36. 

Burk, John, history of Virginia, 
16 ; on emancipation, 75 n. 

Burnaby, Andrew, observations 
of, 54; on two laws of Vir 
ginia, H7n. 

Bushrod, Thomas, purchaser of 
mulatto as slave, 31. 

Caesar, a slave, set free, 62. 

" Calx," on manumission, 81 ; on 
intermarriage of free negroes 
and slaves, 132; on illiteracy 
of free negroes, 145; scheme 




for reducing free negro popu 
lation, 16, I59n. 

Cambew, Emanuel, negro, ac 
quires title to land, 38. 
Campbell, history of Virginia, 16. 
Capitation tax, on free negroes, 


Carter, John, will of, 51. 
Casor, John, negro servant of a 
negro, 32; gains his freedom, 
32; reduced to slavery, 33; 
owned by Anthony Johnson, 
negro, 93. 

Charlton, Stephen, 26, 27. 
Christian servants, 21, 31, 37, 39, 


Christianity, test of freedom, 22. 
Church wardens, care of, for 

mulatto bastards, 40, 41, 138. 
Citizenship, of free negroes, 120- 
122 ; Bancroft s opinion con 
cerning, 121 ; Judge Tucker s 
opinion concerning, 121. 
Clark, Bowling, negro, purchases 

freedom of wife, 77. 
Classes of free negroes, 40, 41. 
Clemenze, Scott, free negro, 

property tax of, H4n. 
Colonization, resolution in legis 
lature concerning, 65, 73; cor 
respondence concerning, be 
tween Monroe and Jefferson, 
66; becomes an important is 
sue, 71 ; appropriations for, 73 ; 
failure of, 74 n. ; Brodnax on, 
oo, 172. 

Colonization Society, American, 
735 Virginia, 73, 157; Powha- 
tan, 75 ; Richmond, petition of, 
76; Fairfax County, memorial 
of, 171 n.; misrepresentations 
of free negroes in memorials, 
157, 171 ; tax levied on free 
negroes for, 115; money spent 
for, 115. 

Constitution, state, 68, 122; Fed 
eral, provisions respecting cit 
izenship, 121. 

Cook, Harriet, free negress, peti 
tion in behalf of, 153, 154. 
Cook, history of Virginia, 16. 
Cooper, Phil, petition of, 92 n. ; 

in bondage to wife, 92 n. 
Corporal punishment, adminis 
tered to free negroes, 105, 161 n. 

Cowen, Philip, defrauded of free 
dom, 34. 

Criminal tendencies of free ne 
groes, 164-167. 

Cuffee, William Miles, free ne 
gro, intimidated by mob, 173. 

Cuffie, James, free negro, li 
censed to keep a gun, 96 n. 

Dabney, Sally, slave of husband, 
93; incapable of receiving be 
quest of property, 93. 

Day, James, no. 

Debts, free negroes sold for, 82, 


Declaration of Independence, 56, 
56 n. ; in contradiction of slave 
laws, 62 n. ; doctrines of, held 
not to apply to negroes, 98. 

Delony, Henry, negro slave of, 
set free, 44. 

Dew, Thomas R., defends slav 
ey* 79 > "Essay on Slavery," 
81 ; views regarding criminal 
tendencies of free negroes, 
158; views concerning behavior 
of free negroes in Virginia, 
170 n. 

Disfranchisement, of free ne 
groes, 119. 

Dogs, free negroes not allowed 
to own, 97, 98. 

Doyle, Benjamin, grant of land 
to, 37- 

Dregis, Emanuel, negro servant, 
26, 27, 28, 28 n. 

Dregis, Frances, 27. 

Dregis, Jane, 26, 27. 

Dungie, John, an Indian, mar 
ries mulatto, 129. 

Dunmore, Governor, 44. 

Dutch, bring in cargo of negroes, 
17, 22 ; import duties on slaves 
assessed upon, 19; importers 
of negroes, 20 n.; plantation 
of, 30 n. 

Edloe, Henry, 89 n. 

Education, free negroes forbid 
den to leave State to obtain, 
107 ; opportunities for, open to 
free negroes, 137-145; of ne 
gro apprentices, 138, 139. 

Elkonheade, Jane, discharges ne 
gro servant, 29. 



Emancipation, progress of, in 
Virginia, Maryland, and north 
ern colonies, 55; propositions 
looking to, 59, 60 ; accomplished 
in Virginia, 42, 42 n. 

Emanuel, free negro, reveals plot, 

Employment of free negroes, 

Equity courts, open to free ne 
groes, 101. 

Ermana, slave woman, escheats 
to literary fund, 93. 

Ex-slaves, removal of, provided 
for, 51, 71, 156, 174; law of 
1806 concerning, not enforced, 

Farnando, Bashasar, negro owner 
of property, 27, 28. 

Farrar, John, last will, 50. 

Firearms, free negroes forbidden 
to own or carry, 52, 95; free 
negroes licensed to keep, 96, 
96 n. ; petition of free negro 
farmers concerning, 97. 

Fiske, John, 79. 

Fitzgerald, John, will of, con 
strued, 87 n. 

Fitzhugh, George, defends slav 
ery, 80. 

Fitzhugh, Giles, frees slaves, 85. 

Floyd, Governor, 143 n., 166. 

" Free niggers." See " Men of 

"Free papers," free negroes re 
quired to have, 101, 107; prima 
facie evidence of freedom, 100, 
101 ; free negroes imprisoned 
for want of, 107 n. ; transferred 
by free negroes to slaves, 64, 
64 n.; forged by slaves, 64, 
64 n. 

Freedom, purchased by slaves, 
63, 77, 170. 

Freedom dues, negro servants 
entitled to, 34 n., 39, 49. 

Freehold, definition of, 119; as 
requirement for voting, 119. 

Friends. See Quakers. 

Fuller, Betsey, owns her husband 
as slave, 92 n. 

Gabriel Insurrection, 64, 65, 65 n., 
69; effect of, on negro educa 

tion, 140; no evidence of free 
negroes in, 167. 

Gatch, Philip, liberates slaves, 58. 

Geaween, John, negro servant, 

Giles, Governor William B., pro 
cures reform of criminal laws 
applicable to free negroes, 164; 
condemns discriminations 
against free negroes, 165. 

Gingaskin Indians, 128, 128 n. 

Glary, John, servant, 47. 

Glasgow, Ellen, "The Battle- 
Ground," 133. 

Gooch, Governor, 53 n. 

Goodell, W., 54- 

Gowen, Mihil, set free, 48. 

Grayson, Colonel William, sets 
free slaves, 56 n. 

Greene, Rev. Charles, 53. 

Gromes, Frank, purchases free 
dom of his family, 91, 92. 

Gwyn, Hugh, servants of, 29. 

Habeas corpus, free negroes en 
titled to writ of, 101, 102, 102 n. 

Hailstock, Rosetta, set free, 45 n. ; 
purchases freedom of her chil 
dren, 170. 

Hamander, John G., negro serv 
ant, 26. 

Harmonites, befriend negroes, 

Harris, James, free negro, 96. 

Harris, John, negro, land deeded 
to, 38. 

Hawkins, Peter, deed of manu 
mission to his wife Rose, 84. 

" Head rights," claimed by ne 
gro, 25, 37, 88. 

Heth, William, wants free negro 
laborers, 147 n. 

Hill, James H., free black man, 


Hill, Joseph, last will of, 61. 

Hiter, Abram, free negro, loon. 

Hobday, Thomas, 139. 

Holmes, William, mulatto, de 
serter from Revolutionary 
Army, lion. 

Hopes, John, free negro, 153. 

House of Burgesses, right of, to 
manumit slaves, 45. 

Howe, Henry, 174. 



Howell, Peggy, children of, kid 
napped, 100. 

Hungar s parish, negroes in, u. 

Hunnicutt, Cloister, bequeathes 
slaves to Monthly Meeting, 57. 

Illiteracy, of free negroes, 145, 

Immigration of free negroes 
forbidden, 64; laws concern 
ing, revised, 66. 

Indentures of negro servants, 
26, 32, 38. 

Indians, not to be slaves, 19 ; 
forbidden to purchase Chris 
tian servants, 91 ; presumed at 
law to be free, 99 ; denied right 
to hold office, 116; not to be 
admitted as witnesses, 117; 
social and marriage relations 
with free negroes, 41, 127-130; 
Gingaskins, 128; Nottoways, 
128; Pamunkeys, 129, 129 n. 

Infidels, forbidden to purchase 
Christian servants, 91 n. 

Ingle, Edward, on manumission 
sentiment, 80. 

Insurrections, negro, feared, 52, 
168; Gabriel, 64, 65, 65 n., 69, 
140, 167; Southampton, 80, 144, 

Intermarriage, of free negroes 
and Indians, 127-130; of free 
negroes and slaves, 130-133; 
of negroes with whites, 123, 
124, 126. 

Isdel, James, 138. 

Jackson, Samuel, free negro, 170. 

James City County, free negroes 
in, 15. 

James, David, free negro, 138. 

Jefferson, Thomas, on status of 
first negroes brought to Vir 
ginia, 24; favors emancipation, 
54; proposes freedom of man 
umission, 55, 56 n., 59; on colo 
nization, 66; concerning f reed- 
men, 75; on effect of slavery 
on character of bondmen, 160. 

Johnson, Anthony, free negro, 
exempted from taxation, 24, 
24 n., 25, 25 n. ; owner of negro 
servant, 32, 33; land grant to, 

Johnson, James, will of, 86 n. 

Johnson, John, negro landowner, 

Johnson, John, sr., negro, suit 
against, 38. 

Johnson, Mary, free negress, 24, 
24 n., 25 n. 

Johnson, Richard, free negro 
landowner, 25, 38. 

Johnson, Samuel, free negro, 131. 

Jones, David A., sells slaves to a 
black man, 91, 92. 

Jones, Robert, deeds land to ne 
gro, 38. 

Jubilee, Jane, free negress, wife 
of slave, 134 n. 

Jury trial, allowed to free ne 
groes, 103 ; denied to them, 104. 

Kidnapping of free negroes, pen 
alty for, 99; decision relating 
to, 100; reward for offenders, 

Kingsmall, Richard, 23 n. 

Kitt, set free by legislative act, 

Lafayette, Marquis, slave spy of, 
62 n. ; inquiry of, concerning 
free negro insurrection, 167. 

Landowners, free negro, 25, 37, 

Lee, Arthur, slave, purchases 
freedom of himself and wife, 

Lee, Governor Henry, proclama 
tion of, 100. 

Legal rights of free negroes, to 
own and alienate property, 88- 
90 ; to own and sell slaves, 90- 
94 ; limited as to ownership of 
white servants, 94; limited as 
to ownership of firearms, 95~ 
97; limited as to ownership of 
dogs, 97, 98; to freedom from 
unjust restraint of liberty, 98- 
102; means of asserting, 102- 
104 ; to go from place to place, 
106-108; to enslave themselves, 

Light, George, owns indented 
negro servant, 26; judgment 
against, 38. 

London Company, servitude in, 


Lucas, Charles, defrauds a negro 
servant of his freedom, 34. 

Ludlowe, Thomas, owner of ne 
groes, 36. 

Lynch-law for controlling free 
negroes, 172, 173. 

Madison, James, favors manu 
mission, 81 ; on negro insur 
rections, 167. 

Malacai, mulatto boy, to be 
taught trade, 139. 

Manumission, free negro popu 
lation increased by, 41 ; mean 
ing of term, 42; methods of, 
42 ; by special act of the legis 
lature, 43-45 ; precedents found 
in customs of servitude, 46- 
50; right of, restricted bylaw, 
51; right denied except for 
meritorious service, 53; un 
popular in colony, 53, 53 n. ; 
growth of sentiment favorable 
to, 54-59; law permitting free 
dom of, proposed in legisla 
ture, 55; movement favoring, 
aided by religious societies, 57- 
59; proposed law enacted, 59, 
59 n. ; produces sudden increase 
of free negro class, 61 ; aided 
by Revolutionary philosophy, 
61, 62 ; evil results of, 64, 65 ; 
repeal of act of 1782 proposed 
and debated, 67-69; effect of 
law of 1806 upon, 70, 71 ; prop 
osition relating to, 74; causes 
of decline in frequency of, 70- 
82 ; relation of, to economic 
conditions, 77-82; stages in 
progress of, summarized, 82; 
legal aspects of, 82-87 ; instru 
ments of, 83, 84; in future, 86. 

Marshall, Thomas, in debate of 
1832, 90, 158; thought free ne 
groes a barrier to servile in 
surrection, 169. 

Martin, Nicholas, last will, 49. 

Mayo, Joseph, frees slaves, 56. 

Medlicott, Richard, Spanish mu 
latto, 39 n. 

" Men of color," and " free nig 
gers " distinguished, 159. 

Mercer, General, 157. 

Methodists, favor manumission, 
57; disapprove of slavery, 58, 

58 n.; petition for gradual abo 
lition, 60 n. ; to be spared by 
insurgent negroes, 65; offer 
Christianity to negroes, 139, 
139 n., 140; arouse hostility of 
slave owners, 141. 

Military service required of free 
negroes, 109-112. 

Militia, free negroes in, 95; reg 
ulation for enlistment of free 
negroes, 96. 

Miller, John, free negro, account 
of his life, H2n. 

Millers, roguish slave, aid to free 
negroes, 162. 

Monroe, Governor, on coloniza 
tion, 66; favorable toward 
manumission, 81. 

Moorman, Charles, 56. 

Moral character of the free ne 
groes, 156-159- 

Moravians, befriend negroes, 140. 

Morgan, Philip, negro lessee, 38. 

Morris, Richard, on taxation of 
slaves, 78 n. 

Moseby, C. L., 157. 

Moses, free negro, reveals con 
spiracy, 169. 

Mulattoes, Spanish, 39; classes 
of, 40, 41 ; set free, 44 ; de 
tested by whites, 125 ; number 
in Virginia in 1860, 127; dis 
tinguished from mustees, 130. 

Mundin, William, free mulatto, 
apprenticed to free negro, 95 
n., 151. 

Mustees, 128, 128 n., 130. 

Mustizos. See Mustees. 

Natural rights, philosophy of, 
54, 55; interpreted to apply to 
negroes, 56, 59; victory for, 61. 

Navy, Confederate, free negroes 
in, 112; United States, 1 12, 
112 n. 

Nottoway Indians, 128. 

Occupations of free negroes, 

149, 150. 
Offices, free negroes forbidden 

to hold, 116. 
Olmstead, F. L., 157. 
Overseers, negro, 38. 
Overseers of poor, to bind out 

free negroes, 41, 139; to sell 



free negroes remaining in 
State in violation of law, 175. 

Pamunkey Indians, 129, 129 n. 

Parke, Daniell, manumits slave, 
50, 51 n. 

Parker, Henry, free negro, 153. 

Parker, Robert, sued by a free 
negro, 33. 

Parrish, Col. Jolly, lion. 

Payne, John, frees his slave, 56. 

Pedro, John, negro, 23 n. 

Petition, of ninety-one free ne 
groes, 142; right of, belonging 
to free negroes, 103. 

Philosophy of the Revolution, 
effect on slavery, 55, 56 ; favor 
able to freedom, 59. 

Pillory, negro compelled to stand 
in, 124 n. 

Pleasants, John, last will, 57. 

Pleasants, Jonathan, 56 n. 

Pleasants, Robert, frees slaves, 

Poll tax. See Capitation tax. 

Poor whites, unable to compete 
successfully with free negroes, 
147, 148, 156. 

Population, free colored in Vir 
ginia, compared with that of 
other States, 9-13 ; increase of, 
39-41 ; from 1782 to 1810, 61 ; 
from 1820 to 1840, 80; relative 
to slaves in colonial period, 

Pott, Francis, 26, 27, 34, 34 n., 

Pott, John, 34, 34 n. 

Preachers, negro, forbidden to 
preach, 144. 

Presbyterians, favorable toward 
manumission, 58. 

Prostitution among free negroes, 
how dealt with, 172. 

Pryne, Francis, negro discharged 
from servitude, 29. 

Punch, John, negro servant, 29, 


Punishments, prescribed by law 
for free negroes, 104-106. 

Quakers, favor manumission, 57, 
58, 58 n.; urged to free slaves, 
62 ; condemn slavery and the 
slave trade, 62 n. ; to be spared 

by insurgent negroes, 65 ; offer 
instruction to free negroes, 139, 
140, 141. 

Quickley, Mary, free black wo 
man, owns slave, 94. 

Rachel, free negress, wife of 
slave, 131. 

Radford, George, negro, pur 
chases a slave, 91. 

Radford, James, sells slave to a 
black freeman, 91. 

Randolph, John, of Roanoke, lib 
erated slaves of, driven from 
Ohio, 72; will of, 76, 85, 85 n. 

Reginald, Mr., runaway negro 
of, 30 n. 

Registers. See "Free papers." 

Registration of free negroes, 
101, 108, 178. 

Revolutionary War, service in, 
by slaves rewarded with free 
dom, 62, 62 n.; free negroes 
in, no, non. 

Rew, Richard, purchases free 
negro, 175. 

Richmond Enquirer, attitude to 
ward manumission in 1805, 68; 
on variance of laws and senti 
ment, 173. 

Richmond Recorder, manumis 
sion opposed by, 75. 

Richmond Whig, on free negro 
labor, 149. 

Rolfe, Master John, 22. 

Rowan, Pleasant, free negro 
carpenter, 153. 

Ruffin, Edmund, defends slav 
ery, 80; views in regard to 
manumission, 85. 

Sabb, John, free negro, purchased 
and manumitted father-in-law, 

Sampson, Jacob, free negro, li 
cense of, to keep an ordinary 
revoked, 149 n. 

Santo Domingo, negro insurrec 
tion in, 67, 67 n., 167. 

Schools, free colored, not al 
lowed by law, 144, 145. 

Schwartz, J. A., nuncupative 
will of, concerning his slaves, 
85 n. 



Servitude, distinguished from 
slavery, 18; white, or indented, 
beginning of, 22; negro servi 
tude, 25-31, 38; encroachments 
of slavery upon, 31-34. 

Shakers, befriend negroes, 140. 

Sheepraising, free negroes and 
dogs a menace to, 97, 97 n. 

Sheppard, Robert, 28. 

Slavery debate of 1832, 135. 

Slavery, what is evidence of, 18; 
distinguished from servitude, 
18; developed in customary 
law, 18, 19; servitude the his 
toric basis of, 18 n. ; first act 
concerning, 19; Indian, 19; 
legislative sanction of, 21-22; 
Ballagh s history of, 20; earli 
est records of, 34-37; abol 
ished in Virginia, 42 n. 

Slaves, permitted to give testi 
mony against free negroes, 66; 
owned by free negroes, 77, 91- 
95 ; social relations with free 
negroes, 130-137. 

Smith, Colonel William, 31. 

Smith, Governor, on free negro 
labor, 147, 148; characterizes 
free negroes, 157, 157 n. ; opin 
ion concerning lack of indus 
try among free negroes, 171. 

Smyth, of Wythe County, op 
poses manumission, 67. 

Stafford, Christopher, 48. 

Stephens, Rice, free negro, 131. 

Stringfellow, Rev. Dr. Thornton, 
defends slavery, 80. 

Suffrage, rights shared by free 
negroes, 117-119; denied to 
free negroes, 119, 120. 

Taxation, of free negroes, 112- 

Taxpayers, free negroes as, 1151*. 

Taylor, John E., will of, 86 n. 

Testimony, free negroes not al 
lowed to give, against a white 
man, 116, 117; slaves permit 
ted to give, against free ne 
groes, 66. 

Thacker, Samuel, gift to servant, 

Thomas, Fortune, free negress, 
petition in behalf of, 154. 

Tidewater, free negro popula 
tion of, 13, 14, 15. 

Trans-Allegheny, free negro pop 
ulation of, 13, 14. i 

Trial of free negroes, method of, 

Tucker, St. George, u, 12, 17; 
on progress of manumission in 
Virginia, 61 n. ; decision of, in 
suit for freedom, 98, 98 n. ; on 
citizenship of negroes, 121. 

Turner, Nat, insurrection, 144. 

Tyner, Uriah, free negro, peti 
tion in behalf of, 152. 

Unlawful meetings of negroes, 
52; of slaves, 141 n. 

Vagrants, free negroes as, 107, 
107 n. ; liable to arrest, 155. 

Valley of Virginia, free negro 
population of, 13, 14. 

Vaughan, Richard, discharge of 
negro, 47; last will and testa 
ment of, 49, 49 n. 

Vaughn, Craddock, quadroon 
children of, 135. 

Viney, Joseph and James, free 
negroes, petition to keep fire 
locks, 97. 

Voting. See Suffrage. 

Walker, Major Peter, inventory 
of slaves of, 36. 

Wall, Anne, banished from col 
ony, 124. 

War of 1812, free negroes serve 
in, in; poll-tax on free ne 
groes to support, 114. 

Warner, Daniel, free negro bar 
ber, 153. 

Warwick, Hannah, 38. 

Washington, George, on slaves 
as property, 78. 

West, Reuben, free negro slave 
owner, 95 n. ; property tax on, 
H3n. ; occupation as barber, 

West, Richard, on free negro 

suffrage, 119. 
Whitehead, Thomas, last will of, 

49, 50, 89 n. 
Whittaker, William, petition of, 




Whittington, William, sold negro 
slave, 34. 

Will, negro slave, set free by 
legislature, 43, 52. _ 

Wilson, Henry, on introduction 
of negroes into Virginia, 17; in 
error concerning manumission 
laws of Virginia, 82 n. 

Wise, Governor Henry A., on 
need of free negro labor, 155; 
on general character of free 
negroes, 166; on banishment of 
free negroes, 177. 

Witness, limited ability of free 
negroes to become, 116, 117; 
charge administered to free 
negro witnesses, 117. See also 

Wood, Janette, free negress, 92. 

Wyatt, Sir Francis, 24. 

Wythe, George, decision of, as 
chancellor, 98. 

Yates, William, free negro, will 

of, 89 n. 
Yeardly, George, 23 n. 


John Henderson Russell was born in Lee County, Vir 
ginia, April 8, 1884, and received his elementary and sec 
ondary education in the public schools and in the Jonesville 
Institute. After teaching for two years in the public schools 
of Lee County, he entered Emory and Henry College in 
1904, and received the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1907. 
For the two following sessions he was principal of a state 
high school in Lee County. He entered the Johns Hopkins 
University in October, 1909, and pursued graduate studies 
in Political Science, History, Philosophy, and Political Econ 
omy. In the summers of 1910 and 1911 he was instructor 
in Civil Government in the Virginia Summer Institute for 
Teachers at Big Stone Gap, Virginia. He was a holder of 
a Hopkins Scholarship from Virginia for three years, 1909- 
1912, and was Fellow in Political Science, 1912-1913. 











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*TThiversiry of California